The life of an NHL backup goaltender can be a difficult one. He’s one of the last players off of the ice in practice and morning skates, and when he gets into a game, many times it’s in the second of a back-to-back where his teammates may not have full energy tanks.
That’s been the case with Alex Stalock, who probably spends more time on the practice ice than anyone else. And, in four of his six starts this season, it’s been on the back end of two straight games.
After another defeat on Friday, though, it’s becoming clear that he’s not giving the Sharks steady enough goaltending. A 4-2 loss in Ottawa dropped Stalock to 2-5-0, with a 3.10 goals-against average and .890 save percentage.
To put that in perspective, there have been 65 goalies that have played at least five NHL games this season. Among that group, Stalock is 56th in goals-against average and 58th in save percentage out of those 65.
While Stalock didn’t make any blatant errors in allowing four goals on 35 shots to the Senators on Friday, he didn’t come up with the big save when the team needed it. In today’s NHL, it’s not enough to just not allow any bad goals. Most nights your goaltender needs to make at least one or two highlight reel stops for the team to have a chance.
Stalock doesn’t seem to have that in him at this point. In his last 15 starts dating back to last season, he’s allowed at least four goals against in seven of them.
Against the Senators, Craig Anderson outplayed him. Minutes before Ottawa took the lead for good, Anderson made his biggest save when he denied Tommy Wingels on a two-on-one rush with 15 minutes left in a 1-1 game.
On the other end, after an Ottawa faceoff win, a point shot hit from Cody Ceci hit Stalock in the mask causing the goalie to lose his stick and leading to mad scramble. Jean-Gabriel Pageau dove in to push across the loose disc for the goal that gave the Sens the lead for good.
It was a strange goal, but there have been too many strange goals against Stalock to consider it a coincidence anymore. In his previous start against the Lightning on Dec. 5, Stalock lost track of a puck in the crease leading to a Brian Boyle marker that held up as the game winner in a 4-3 Tampa triumph.
On Nov. 10 against the Islanders Stalock made 20 saves on 21 shots in a relief appearance, but the puck that got past him came on a shot from behind the blue line. That, too, was the game-winner in a 3-2 Sharks defeat.
On Oct. 17 in Brooklyn, it was a Ryan Strome shot that hit Stalock up high. He swiped the loose mask from his head after the buckles loosened, but play was allowed to continue and Anders Lee scored for New York in a 6-3 Isles win.
Stalock just hasn’t looked right.
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Speaking with reporters after the Senators loss, DeBoer said that Stalock gave the Sharks a “good game.”
“I thought the first period we had some grade-A looks, and Anderson made some saves. … It was one of those games where you knew whoever could get the second goal was probably going to win, and we just couldn’t bury one.”
According to DeBoer, the Sharks had to open it up after falling behind 2-1, and you can “throw the rest” of the game out – an odd thing to say, considering the Sharks had just erased a two-goal third period deficit the night before in Toronto.
Opening the game up, though, only exposed Stalock more. Chris Wideman’s shot on a wrist shot through traffic made it 3-1, on a puck that Stalock can’t be faulted for not seeing, but one that a bigger goalie might have gotten in front of. Later, Erik Karlsson easily converted a two-on-one rush to put it away for Ottawa.
Finding a more competent backup than Stalock is easier said than done, though. In the AHL, Troy Grosenick is 5-4-2 with a 3.12 GAA and .900 SP, while Aaron Dell is 4-5-1 with a 2.68 GAA and .910 SP. Grosenick would be the more likely option to get a shot, considering he’s already had a taste of the NHL last season and is viewed internally as the better prospect.
Grosenick may even be penciled in as next year’s backup already, as he’s signed to a one-way deal while Stalock is a pending unrestricted free agent.
Salary cap space is also a big issue with the Sharks, too. As it stands, they’re only about $1 million under, according to hockeyscap.com, and that's with Ben Smith still on injured reserve. Stalock is earning $1.6 million this season.
Something has to change in net, though. The Sharks have seven sets of back-to-back games left, and Martin Jones is still working his way through his first season as an NHL starter. Stalock is a popular guy in the dressing room and his teammates love him, particularly those that have been with him since he worked his way back from a career-threatening injury in 2011. But, it’s time to try someone else.