OTTAWA – Playing a second game just 19 hours after the previous one ended is not an ideal situation.
Unless your Sharks goalie Alex Stalock, who was making his first career start on Sunday evening in Ottawa, and who had to wait more than three weeks after opening night to finally see some action.
“I think it helped a lot, being a 5 o’clock [PST] game,” Stalock said after his 38-save performance in a 5-2 win over the Senators. “I didn’t have to sit around all night, and come to the rink, and go through the routine. It was a little easier than sitting around all day in my hotel room.”
The 26-year-old recorded his second win in his fourth career appearance, the previous three of which came in relief of Antti Niemi. His first win was on Feb. 1, 2011, and since then he’s had to recover from a potentially career-threatening nerve injury that kept him sidelined for nearly a calendar year. It happened while with AHL Worcester, just three days that first NHL victory against Phoenix two-and-a-half years ago.
It’s a topic he can’t escape, including Sunday night at Canadian Tire Centre.
“It seems I can’t get out of an interview now without the injury question. I think I’m passed it hockey-wise,” he said.
“Just being able to play the game again was a big step for me.”
Sharks head coach Todd McLellan said before the game that he hoped competing for Stalock would energize his club, which could be fatigued after a 2-0 win in Montreal the previous night.
Whether that played a role in the offense waking up from a dormant three game stretch, in which the Sharks scored just three total goals, is impossible to measure. But, Logan Couture was glad the team pulled through for Stalock on a night in which the legs were surely a bit heavier than usual.
“He looked great. He made a lot of saves,” Couture said. “We didn’t play our best, but we got the win on the road and Al was great.”
McLellan said: “He was a bit of a sparkplug for us tonight, if you will. The guys wanted to play for him. I thought he handled himself well.”
Stalock also saw an unusual amount of shots for a Sharks goalie. Ottawa attempted 17 shots in the first period and 40 for the game, a season high allowed for San Jose. Stalock saw just two get past him, both coming on point shots in which he may have been screened.
Stalock sensed the Senators were testing him early, obviously knowing he hadn’t yet gotten in to a game.
“Maybe that’s a good thing I saw a lot early and was able to feel it,” he said. “They were kind of shooting it from everywhere, which I expected they would, not being in a game yet. I was lucky enough to make the saves.”
McLellan said: “That sure wasn’t planned, but I think he felt like he was in the game.”
The Sharks grabbed the lead less than two minutes in, and never relinquished it. Twice the Senators drew to within a goal, but San Jose never surrendered the equalizer and cruised after getting a three-goal cushion early in the third.
Tomas Hertl ended a six-game drought just one minute and 16 seconds in, and Andrew Desjardins and James Sheppard each got their first of the season. Tommy Wingels’ shorthanded goal and Joe Pavelski’s fourth of the year rounded out the scoring as the Sharks rearranged three of their four forward lines.
“It’s a team win, team mentality,” McLellan said. “Tonight when [Couture, Patrick Marleau and Tyler Kennedy] didn’t have their best night, yet they were effective, somebody else picked the team up. Tomas Hertl gets involved again, Tommy Wingels gets involved, [Sheppard] – all important guys.”
The Sharks will surely go back to Niemi for Wednesday against Los Angeles as their five-game road swing concludes. But, for at least one night, Stalock proved he could give the Vezina Trophy finalist from last season a break when necessary.
“He’s been through a lot,” Joe Thornton said. “He’s been patiently waiting behind Nemo, and to come out with a performance like that was huge for us.”