Programming note: Sharks-Canadiens coverage gets underway Saturday at 3:30 p.m. with Sharks Pregame Live on Comcast SportsNet California
BOSTON – Alex Stalock will start an NHL game in the very near future for the San Jose Sharks. Really, he will.
The backup goaltender to Antti Niemi has been patiently waiting his turn to see some actual game action, and it will very likely come this weekend when the Sharks have their first back-to-back situation of the season. San Jose visits the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday at 7 p.m. EST/4 p.m. PST, and Ottawa Senators less than 24 hours later on Sunday at 5 p.m. EST/2 p.m. PST.
[REWIND: Stalock wins battle for backup]
Niemi is the only NHL goaltender this season that has played every minute of every game for his team, and he’s posted impressive numbers in the process. He’s tied for the league lead with eight wins, has a 1.67 goals-against average (fourth among goalies that have played at least four games), and .927 save percentage.
He looks just like the goaltender that was a Vezina Trophy finalist for the first time in his career last season.
But, the Sharks will need Stalock to start at least eight to 10 games, provided Niemi stays healthy. The 26-year-old Minnesota native, who beat out Harri Sateri to earn the backup role in camp, has just three games of NHL experience but each of those was in relief of Niemi. In between his first and second appearances was a potentially career threatening nerve injury that sidelined him for approximately a full calendar year.
Is he antsy to get that first career start under his belt?
“Yeah, you want to. I got a chance to start a few preseason games, but it’s a whole different speed in the regular season,” Stalock said on Wednesday in Boston. “It will be fun when it comes.”
Todd McLellan has already confirmed Stalock would start before the current five-game road trip is over. In the meantime, Stalock has enjoyed practicing with the NHL’s top offense, which is averaging four goals per game. That’s still tops in the league, despite the Sharks getting just one goal total in the last two.
“Practices are great. It’s a challenge every day, you’ve got to be at your best to stop these guys,” Stalock said. “It’s fun to come to the rink and work hard, learn from Nemo, and it’s just fun to compete against these world class players.”
“Obviously, you want to play, but 8-0-1 [now 8-1-1], there’s nothing you can change. We’ve got arguably one of the best goalies. He likes playing, he wants to play, and he’s at his best when he plays. That’s best for the team.”
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The Sharks enjoyed an off day in Montreal on Friday after arriving there late Thursday night. They’ll reconvene at the Bell Centre on Saturday morning for a pregame skate.