Sharks’ Stalock shining as a starter

Sure, it was a letdown to watch the Sharks winning-streak snapped by the LA Kings Monday night.

But you can’t deny: It was a fun game to watch on both ends of the ice. And Alex Stalock was a big part of that.

After seeing very little playing time in the start of the 2013 campaign, the backup netminder has been beyond impressive between the pipes, giving the Sharks the best of opportunities to win.

Stalock (7-3-0, .943 save percentage, 2.37 goals against average) has shut down opposing offensive rushes with the confidence of any starting tender, and can even add “franchise record holder” to his hockey CV.

He made Sharks history by notching 178:55 minutes of shutout hockey, breaking the franchise record previously set by Evgeni Nabokov in 2009.

The question, at least right this minute, is how many more starts Stalock will rack up before the Olympic break, with Sharks’ starter Antti Niemi (27-10-6, .913, 2.37) refreshed and well-rested.

Head coach Todd McLellan remained complimentary of Stalock’s performance after the loss to the Kings, even though Stalock had given up the game’s lone goal:

“Alex was real good. Excellent experience for him to play against that team, to fight through their size and their strength around the net. … We’re happy with it.”

The rest of the team should be nothing but happy: Stalock boasts a 4-1-0 record with a 1.00 GAA and a .966 save percentage in his last five starts.

Stalock’s shutout streak could’ve stretched longer had Anze Kopitar’s wrist shot hadn’t gotten past him Monday night.

When asked post game if he had been aware of the streak, or if he was aware that he had just set a franchise record, Stalock joked:

“Other than (Logan Couture) reminding me every single day, (laughs) but I don’t know what it was at.”

The 26-year-old out of St. Paul, Minnesota saw very little ice time in the first few months of the season, even with back-to-backs throughout the schedule, or with starter Niemi showing fatigue after a holiday season chock full of games.

A strong outing against the visiting Dallas Stars back in December wasn’t enough to get Stalock more starts either. Nor was his road victory on the road against a tough Chicago Blackhawks team on January 5, when his shutout streak started.

But a victory down in Florida over the last roadie seemed to convince coach McLellan that the kid has the hotter hand and should be in net more often.

Even after the one goal loss to LA, teammate Joe Thornton would be happy to have Stalock between the pipes any night:

“He played super. The Kopitar goal was just a nifty move. But, (Stalock) played solid throughout the whole thing … I’ll give him a shot to win every night, and tonight was no exception.”

Starting Saturday, San Jose plays four more home games with only a day’s rest in between during the week leading up to a three-week break for the Sochi Olympics.

Niemi’s performance against Minnesota last Saturday — while not horrible — was somewhat sluggish. Niemi doesn’t look to get much time off during February either, though Boston’s Tuukka Rask looks like the favorite to start in net for Finland in Sochi.

Niemi registered a victory at home against the Wild, yet it would be best not to play him out before the break.

Not to mention Chicago and Dallas — two foes that Stalock is familiar with winning against — will be at SAP Center during that stretch.

The Sharks visit Edmonton Wednesday and Calgary Friday before returning to San Jose to host Chicago Saturday night at 7:30 p.m.


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