The San Jose Sharks had a major goaltending problem during 2018-19 season.
It was clearly the biggest Achilles Heel on an otherwise great team, and it was a testament to the dominance of the team itself that they were able to win as many games as they did and reach the Western Conference Final with a level of goaltending that typically sinks other teams.
Even with the struggles of Martin Jones and Aaron Dell, the Sharks remained committed to the duo through the trade deadline and were ready to roll into the Stanley Cup Playoffs with them as the last line of defense. And while their play itself may not have been the biggest reason their playoff run came to an end against the St. Louis Blues, it still was not good enough and was going to be a huge question mark going into the 2019-20 season.
Instead of doing anything to address the position in the offseason, the Sharks gambled that Jones and Dell could bounce-back and entered this season with the same goaltending duo in place that finished near the bottom of the league a year ago.
So far, the results for the two goalies are nearly identical to what they were a year ago. And with the team around them not playing well enough to mask the flaws they are taking a huge hit in the standings with just four wins in their first 12 games.
As of Monday the Sharks have the league’s fifth-worst all situations save percentage and the second-worst 5-on-5 save percentage (only the Los Angeles Kings are worse in that category), while neither Jones or Dell has an individual mark better than .892. In seven starts Jones has topped a .900 save percentage just twice, and has been at .886 or worse in every other start. Dell has not really been any better. Say what you want about team defense, or structure, or system, or the players around them, it is awfully difficult to compete in the NHL when your goalies are giving up that many goals on a regular basis.
Sometimes you need a save, even if there is a breakdown somewhere else on the ice, and the Sharks haven’t been consistently getting them for more than a year now. Going back to the start of last season, there have been 52 goalies that have appeared in at least 30 games — Jones and Dell rank 48th and 51st respectively in save percentage during that stretch. The other goalies in the bottom-10 are Mike Smith, Roberto Luongo, Cory Schneider, Cam Ward, Joonas Korpisalo, Cam Talbot, Keith Kinkaid, and Jonathan Quick. Two of those goalies (Luongo and Ward) are now retired, another (Kinkaid) is a backup, two others (Talbot and Korpisalo) are in platoon roles, while Smith, Schneider, and Quick have simply been three of the league’s worst regular starters. Not an ideal goaltending situation for a Stanley Cup contender to be in.
When it comes to Jones it is at least somewhat understandable as to why the Sharks may have been so willing to stick by him. For as tough as his 2018-19 performance was, it looked to be a pretty clear outlier in an otherwise solid career. He may have never been one of the league’s elite goalies, but he had given them at least three consecutive years of strong play with some random playoff brilliance thrown in. They also have a pretty significant financial commitment to him as he is under contract for another four years after this one. So far, though, there is little evidence to suggest such a bounce-back is on the horizon.
It’s enough to wonder if the Sharks will be as patient with their goalies as they were a year ago and what over moves could be made. Make no mistake, this is a team that is built to win the Stanley Cup right now and one that is still trying to capitalize on the window it has with its core of All-Stars. A bad start should not do anything to change that ultimate goal because there is still a championship caliber core here. And while not every team is capable of an in-season turnaround like the one the Blues experienced a year ago, the Sharks are one that could theoretically do it if their goaltending performance significantly changes for the better. But that might require some kind of move from outside the organization if the returning duo does not soon start showing some sort of progress.
Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.