GLENDALE — Pete DeBoer can scratch the phrase “goaltending” off his record of worries this fall.
For the first time in his tenure as the Sharks head coach, DeBoer entered training camp knowing that goaltending is a “position of strength” for his team with Martin Jones as his starter, Aaron Dell as his backup and Troy Grosenick, who will be starting Saturday’s preseason bout against the Arizona Coyotes at the Gila River Arena, serving as an insurance policy with the AHL Barracuda.
“I feel a lot better about it than I did a year ago,” DeBoer said, referring to the Sharks netminding. “I think it’s a position of strength here now for us.”
In his first season with the Sharks, DeBoer opened the schedule with a No. 1 goalie in Jones, who’d started just 29 NHL games. His backup, Alex Stalock, struggled mightily that season, recording an .884 save percentage and a 2.94 goals-against average in 13 appearances, forcing the Sharks to swing a deal for James Reimer at the trade deadline.
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Last year, the Sharks opened the season with an unknown commodity in Dell as their backup and a minor league netminder in Grosenick, who appeared to be circling the drain after posting an .894 save percentage and a 3.16 goals-against average in 28 appearances with the Barracuda.
As they say, what a difference a year can make.
Dell performed even better than Jones as the Sharks backup (.930, 2.00) last year and Grosenick won the AHL’s goalie of the year award, going 30-10-2 with a .926 save percentage, a 2.04 goals-against average and 10 shutouts.
“He proved last year that he’s an elite goalie at the American League level,” DeBoer said. “Every time he plays, I get more confidence in him that he can play at this (NHL) level. Who knows what happens? You have to have three goalies.”
Although Dell’s job is secure for now, DeBoer wants Grosenick to enter the season with the mindset that he’s competing for an NHL job. Grosenick told the Mercury News earlier in camp that he re-signed with the Sharks for two years in the offseason because he still sees opportunity within the organization.
“We want him to push these guys,” the Sharks coach said. “This game has a way of rewarding perseverance and hard work. Other teams notice. Someone gets injured. There’s all sorts of things that can happen.
“He’s got to do his part and be ready and play well, but usually things work out for guys like that.”
— After the Sharks return to Silicon Valley Saturday night, DeBoer and the rest of the organization’s brain trust will start discussing the next wave of cuts to his roster.
The Sharks roster is currently sitting at 42 players and DeBoer would like to reduce that group to a single practice squad by the beginning of next week.
“The next few games, you’re going to see more and more of our regular lineup,” DeBoer said.
After Saturday’s clash in the desert, the Sharks will play three more preseason games before the puck drops on the regular season with a bout against the Philadelphia Flyers at the SAP Center on Oct. 4.
The Sharks will travel to Anaheim Thursday, host the Coyotes on Sept. 30 and then complete the preseason schedule with a trip to Sin City to take on the expansion Vegas Golden Knights on Oct. 1.
— Kevin Labanc, Danny O’Regan and Joakim Ryan will all be in the lineup for a third-consecutive game Saturday.
DeBoer said the game is “pivotal” for forwards, such as Labanc and O’Regan, who appear to be on the fringes in the competition for the open roster spots.
“There’s only a handful of games, you’ve got to make them count,” he said.
The Sharks coach played coy when asked whether Ryan will be paired up with his minor league defensive partner, Tim Heed, saying, “the Sedins, you mean?”
But he did acknowledge that Ryan’s performance as Brent Burns’ defensive partner Thursday raised his eyebrows.
“He played a really-solid game. That just shows you, individually, (Ryan and Heed) are both very good players,” DeBoer said.