Programming note: Sharks-Panthers coverage starts tonight at 7pm with Sharks Pregame Live on CSN California.
SAN JOSE – Alex Stalock will be in net, and forwards Nikolay Goldobin and Micheal Haley will provide a new look on the Sharks’ bottom two lines for Thursday’s game with the Panthers.
In a bit of a surprise move Stalock will be making his third start, and playing in his third game in the last four. He came on in relief of Martin Jones on Tuesday, needing to make just two saves on two shots in the third period of a 5-2 loss to the Blue Jackets.
The 28-year-old’s numbers aren’t pretty, as he’s 0-2-0 with a 3.94 goals-against average and .847 save percentage this season. In his last 13 games dating back to last season, Stalock is 3-7-1 with a 3.04 GAA and .884 SP. He’s allowed four goals or more five times in his last 11 starts.
Stalock recognized the importance of the game for the team, which is 2-6-0 in its last eight, but also for him personally.
“It’s a must win for the team. Obviously for me, it’s a must win,” Stalock said. “But at the same time for us as a team, it’s time to roll off a few in a row. No better place to start than tonight.”
While it’s fair to wonder if Stalock’s roster spot is in jeopardy, coach Pete DeBoer gave no such indication.
“We all know what he’s capable of. He’s had a little bit of unfortunate luck in the circumstances he’s been in so far this year,” DeBoer said. “But, I don’t have any doubt that he’s going to help us tonight and in the future.”
DeBoer said he targeted this portion of the schedule as a good time to get both Jones and Stalock some action, as San Jose is in a stretch of six games in 11 days.
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Goldobin will replace Matt Nieto on the Sharks’ third line alongside Chris Tierney and Tommy Wingels. He played three games with the Sharks on the road in October, scoring his first NHL goal in Brooklyn on Oct. 17 on a pass from Joe Thornton. He has 2 points (1g, 1a) and 11 shots in five games with the Barracuda.
What did he learn from his brief stint earlier with the Sharks?
“The NHL is the best league in the world, so you have to be fast all the time,” he said. “You can't just skate easy. That's what I learned."
The key for all young players to stick in the NHL, of course, is consistency.
DeBoer said: “I thought last time up he had one excellent game and one game where his level dropped a little bit. … The message was go down there and work hard and you’ll get an opportunity soon to be back.”
In Goldobin’s most recent NHL game against the Rangers on Oct. 19, he had particular trouble in the defensive zone. He knows that will continue to be a focal point when it comes to his development.
"Yeah, always defense,” he said though a chuckle. “Every time. I think it's getting better. Just need more time."
Nieto has been demoted to the fourth line with Haley and Bryan Lerg. He’ll replace Mike Brown, who is dealing with a minor injury stemming from his first period fight on Tuesday against Gregory Campbell. Brown is expected to be available by the weekend, according to DeBoer.
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Joonas Donskoi, who was so impressive against the Blue Jackets on Tuesday, will be playing against the team that drafted him for the first time. Donskoi was selected by the Panthers in the fourth round of the 2010 draft, but attended only one development camp and never made it to training camp.
He said on Thursday morning that he decided, along with his family and his agent, to stay in Finland because there was no “realistic chance to make the Panthers.”
He still has some acquaintances on Florida’s roster, including fellow Finn Jussi Jokinen.
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Jaromir Jagr is expected to play for the Panthers, after he missed two games recently with a lower body injury but suited up last night in a 3-2 shootout loss in Anaheim. He leads Florida with 6 goals and 10 points.
DeBoer knows the 43-year-old legend well, having coached him in New Jersey for one-and-a-half seasons.
“He’s a generational player. There [are] only a few of those guys around. The way he conditions himself, the way he approaches the game. He lives, eats, sleeps, and breathes hockey. You assume that all NHL players do, but it’s a whole different level of commitment on his part, especially at the age he’s at and the number of games that he’s played.
“He was a pleasure to work with. It’s a memory that I’ll have forever as a coach. I watched him last night in Anaheim. … He’s not dropping off. He’s got a lot of gas still left in the tank.”