It is common knowledge around the hockey world that the San Jose Sharks have one of the best, if not the best, goaltending duos in the National Hockey League. Martin Jones is thought of throughout the league as a prototypical #1 goaltender and Aaron Dell has been equally impressive backing up Jones over his first three years in the league.
What may not be as well known is the fact that the Sharks have one of the best goaltending combos at the American League level as well. Through the first month of the season, Antoine Bibeau and Josef Korenar have combined for the AHL's best goals-against average (1.85) and save percentage (.935). In addition, the two have allowed a league-low 18 goals through nine games. That production between the pipes has propelled the Barracuda to a 7-1-0-1 mark, the best start in franchise history.
On Thursday, the AHL announced that Bibeau had been named the CCM/AHL Goaltender of the Month after allowing only nine goals on 149 shots in five starts (3-1-1) during October, lifting San Jose to the top of the Western Conference.
The Sharks inked Bibeau as a free agent last summer after the Toronto Maple Leafs opted not to sign the 24-year-old after the expiration of his three-year entry-level contract. Since joining San Jose, the Victoriaville, Quebec native has been one of the AHL's best puck-stoppers, earning mid-season All-Star honors last year and carrying San Jose to its third consecutive playoff appearance. The Sharks re-signed Bibeau to a two-year contract this past offseason, ensuring organizational goaltending depth for years to come.
"Antoine is a guy that is ready to make the leap to the NHL if called upon," said Sharks Development Coach Evgeni Nabokov. "He's proven to be one of the best at this level (AHL) and continues to work on his game and become better and better."
Going into his second season in San Jose, Bibeau knew he needed to build off last year's successes by using training camp as a springboard to another strong season. With no real chance of leapfrogging the NHL-established Dell, Bibeau went into camp just wanting work hard and get better.
"It's clear that Bibs (Bibeau) came into camp in great shape and was ready to go from the start," said Nabokov. "It's translated into games, and he's starting to take it to another level."
"I wanted to come in and have a strong camp and I felt like I was able to do that," said Bibeau. "I had a good season last year but I knew I needed to follow that up and everything has seemed to come together and it's been a lot of fun."
Bibeau's running mate in net has been equally effective. The 20-year-old Korenar who the Sharks signed as an undrafted free agent last summer following development camp, is first among rookies in wins (4-0-0-0), goals-against average (2.01) and is second in save percentage among netminders who have played in four or more games. In addition, all four of Korenar's starts have come on the road.
Bibeau and Korenar's play has allowed for head coach Roy Sommer to rotate the goalies every game which has lightened up the early season workload and has instilled a confidence in his team no matter which goalie is starting.
"Both guys have earned the right to play and as a coaching staff we feel good no matter who is in," said Sommer. "The work both of them have put in with Nabby every day is clearly paying off. We feel very fortunate to have two really good goaltenders here."
Part of the reason for both Bibeau and Korenar's early success has been their relationship with one another. Bibeau, the older of the two, has taken Korenar under his wing over the first month of the season.
"He's a great kid," said Bibeau when talking about Korenar. "He works really hard and the rotation has allowed for us both to be fresh and full of energy when we get into games."
After spending last season playing pro in his native Czech Republic, Korenar has been able to turn his game up another notch under the tutelage of Nabokov.
"Working with Nabby has helped me a lot," said Korenar. "He was a great goalie and is a great coach. Since I began working with him last year, I've learned a lot and I feel like my game is where I want it to be."
"To be honest, I haven't had to change a lot with him," said Nabokov when talking about Korenar. " He's got it all there, but I'm just trying to give him a few pointers here and there. "Both Josef and Antoine have been great to work with."