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SAN JOSE -– Throughout training camp, and dating back to the offseason, the message from Sharks management and the head coach was that both goaltenders were going to get a chance to play in the regular season.
Through two games, they’re true to their word.
Alex Stalock will start against the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday night in the team’s home opener at SAP Center, despite Antti Niemi’s 34-save shutout performance against the Kings on Wednesday night.
“It's special, obviously, to get the home opener,” Stalock said. “The crowd will be fired up and excited. Our main goal is to get a win. We hit the road for a while, so it's a big game for us."
Last season, Stalock was the final NHL backup goaltender to get into a game, not playing until late October.
He admitted it’s easier “getting to start the season a little earlier, get a game in early. But, you've got to earn your playing time. I think I came in ready to go in training camp. Get a chance early, and see where it goes from here."
As Stalock alluded to, the Sharks play just one game at home before beginning an eight-day road trip on Monday with a cross-country flight to Washington. In all, 16 of their first 21 games are away from home, and as is always the case in San Jose, there are some lengthy flights in between.
The schedule has as much to do with the plan to platoon the goaltenders as does the self-professed “clean slate, no equity” approach to the season.
“If we don’t get both goaltenders into a situation where they can play and feel comfortable, not only will we regret it for the first 21 games, but we’ll regret it in February and March when we’ve worn people out,” Todd McLellan said. “Their play throughout camp has warranted that they both get the net here for a little while, and then they’ll sort it out.”
Stalock had the better numbers than Niemi last season, but McLellan offered a reminder that Stalock still lacks experience.
“He’s just got to keep growing,” McLellan said. “The hockey world is ready to anoint him as the go-to guy, and we feel we have two go-to guys. He’s only played [27 NHL regular season games], so he needs more experience. He’s got to get through the league again. He’s got to get us through some moments when it’s not going so well, as does Nemo.
“We feel we have a real good balance right now in both of them. His growth process can’t slow at all. It’s got to continue to be on the upward slope.”
Stalock was asked how he can build off of last season, his first full year in the NHL, when he posted a 12-5-2 record with a 1.87 goals-against average and.932 save percentage.
"I talked about it a lot last year, learning stuff every game. I don' t think it ever stops. I don't think it ever stops with Nemo either. I think no matter how many games you play in this league you learn something every night, positive or negative. You want to take positives that happened last year and learn from the negatives."
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Sharks forward Eriah Hayes cleared waivers, and has been reassigned to AHL Worcester.