The San Jose Sharks have shaken up the forward lines seemingly every other game. Mikkel Boedker is still looking for some chemistry, any spark at all, with a centerman. Tomas Hertl has moved lines as well as positions. The fourth line has been a hodgepodge of players, but the rotation of Michael Haley, Chris Tierney, Melker Karlsson, Matt Nieto and Tommy Wingels have combined for some great play at the bottom of the lineup.
Despite the line blender whirling for the forward group, the defense and goaltending have been static for the blueline corps and falling into a familiar story for the netminders. The Sharks had both lessons come back to haunt them at various times last season and already seem to be falling into the same trap.
Defensive about the Defense
Head coach Peter DeBoer has said he feels the defense is playing well and taking out a healthy body for the sake of keeping Dylan DeMelo sharp is not something he is inclined to do. The truth is, getting DeMelo into games is what should be happening. Paul Martin has had some rough stretches, and the Sharks will need the veteran rearguard in the late spring, not playing every game in the waning months of 2016.
The Sharks were exceedingly fortunate not to have any major injuries on the blue line last season until Marc-Edouard Vlasic’s right leg injury on March 18 forcing the Sharks best shutdown defender to miss the remainder of the regular season. It goes without saying that Vlasic returning to play the playoffs in their entirety was a huge boost in the Sharks’ Stanley Cup run. And during the long postseason, San Jose deployed the same six defenders in all 24 playoff games.
While that sounds like a credit to the team, many felt that the pairing of Roman Polak and Brenden Dillon was a liability in the Stanley Cup Final. But keeping DeMelo, or whoever else might have been considered, on the shelf for over two months, any change would have been that much riskier.
DeBoer has faced questions about the first 2016-17 contest for DeMelo since the first week of the season. The Sharks are now 16 games into the season, and the 2011 sixth-round pick has yet to see any game action. In fact, DeMelo hasn’t seen any game action since he skated 22:36 in the final preseason contest against the Anaheim Ducks way back on Oct. 9. DeMelo appeared in 45 games last season for the Sharks including 30 straight games between Dec. 9 and Feb. 22. He is a known quantity and a player the Sharks will need when injury strikes.
DeMelo has been without game time for so long, a conditioning stint with the San Jose Barracuda in the American Hockey League would likely be welcome.
Starts for Dell, Rest for Jones
Aaron Dell only has three games of NHL experience, which include two starts. The sample size is far too small to determine if he is, in fact, a quality goaltender at this level but early returns have been on par with what many expected. Dell kept a sleepwalking Sharks team in the game against the Carolina Hurricanes. Despite ultimately losing 1-0, the result could and should have been far worse without timely goaltending from Dell.
Ignoring the minuscule sample size, Dell currently sports a 1.90 goals-against average and a .932 save percentage in three appearances. Dell’s .938 ranks 15th in the NHL among goaltenders with three or more appearances in even-strength save percentage. Those statistics, however they arrived, warrant a more traditional share of the netminding duties and not a run at Martin Brodeur’s 2006-07 record for minutes played in a single season.
Martin Jones is tied for second in the NHL, along with Frederik Andersen and Corey Crawford, with 14 starts and only Edmonton Oilers goalie Cam Talbot (16) has more. This heavy workload is already eerily similar to last season when DeBoer nearly ran Jones into the ground due to the poor play of Alex Stalock, forcing a trade for James Reimer to give Jones some rest before the playoffs.
Do the Sharks unequivocally know what they have in Dell at the NHL level? No. Do they need to have a much better idea, so at the trade deadline Doug Wilson isn’t using a draft pick again for a back-up? Yes, and that would provide some rest for Jones as well.
Learn From The Past
The Sharks have capable players on a very deep roster. Even newly minted NHL players like Dell and DeMelo bring capable depth to the team. DeMelo would be an NHL regular on a handful of other teams and Dell has adjusted quickly to every increased level of competition throughout his career.
The coaching staff must be smart in how they deploy this depth. Both Dell and DeMelo are arguably where they belong on the depth chart. However, injuries are part of professional sports. A team like San Jose must be ready to plug whatever holes or give whatever rest the team needs for another long and successful season.
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