Programming note: Coverage of Avalanche-Sharks begins Monday night at 7:00 with Sharks Pregame Live on CSN California.
SAN JOSE – Sharks backup goaltender Alex Stalock hasn’t seen a whole lot of action in his first full season in the NHL.
The 26-year-old has put up impressive numbers anyway, as the midway point approaches. Stalock made a career-high 44 saves against Dallas on Saturday, did not allow any goals in his first career shootout, and improved to 4-1 with a 2.02 goals-against average and .936 save percentage in seven games.
Stalock has made just five starts in 36 games, putting him on pace for about a dozen. That’s not all that surprising, in that starter Antti Niemi likes the bulk of the workload, is coming off of a season in which he was a Vezina Trophy finalist, and that the Sharks are tied with an NHL-low 10 back-to-back situations in 2013-14.
But, Niemi is big part of the reason the Sharks have cooled off of late after a scorching start to their campaign. In his last 20 starts since Oct. 30 in Los Angeles, Niemi is 9-6-5 with a 2.76 goals-against average and .904 save percentage. He’s also allowing goals that he was stopping routinely at the start of the year, and many are coming at inopportune times.
Could Stalock get more playing time than he’s currently on pace for, if that trend continues? Maybe, but not yet, according to head coach Todd McLellan.
“There’s a chance that can happen. [Stalock] understands his role, he understands his position, as does Nemo,” McLellan said. “I think the team plays well around both of them. As we head into the New Year and into the Olympic break, we may have one of our goaltenders (Niemi) participate in that event, and it will be taxing on him, or anybody that plays. … We’ll have to have significant depth in all positions, including goaltender.”
Any chance Stalock gets the call again for Monday’s home game against Colorado?
“Maybe [Monday], but more likely Nemo, simply because of the [Christmas] break, and getting him a break before we get finished.”
Whenever Stalock gets a start, McLellan and the Sharks’ players talk about how much they enjoy playing in front of Stalock, who arguably shouldn’t even be in the NHL after a serious nerve injury in 2011 sidelined him for almost a full calendar year.
They had an odd way of showing it early on in their 3-2 shootout win over the Stars, though. Stalock saw 31 shots through two periods, and although San Jose did a good job of not allowing second chances, Dallas played in the Sharks’ end for long stretches and had a surprising amount of odd-man rushes.
But, Stalock settled in, and looked as confident as could be in the shootout. He made three saves, saw two pucks miss the net, and picked up the win thanks to Joe Thornton’s conversion in the fifth round.
“He works hard in practice, he’s worked hard coming back from an injury, and the confidence he has out there is really good,” Marc-Edouard Vlasic said.
Vlasic spoke at length on Stalock’s professionalism.
“He works extra hard because he’s not always the biggest guy, his legs aren’t as long as most goalies, so he works that extra hard just to stop those pucks. In the shootout he was great yesterday – the one-and-a-half pad stack (on Rich Peverley). He’s working on it in practice.
“The confidence is there, and it’s well-deserved.”
Perhaps Stalock deserves more playing time, too.