Alex Stalock helped the Sharks get back on the horse following an embarrassing sweep-clinching loss to the Buffalo Sabres by handling the Devils in New Jersey 4-2 Sunday afternoon. Now they’re facing some tough decisions in net.
Nevermind the god-given scratches of Adam Burish and Mike Brown (we’ll get to those shortly) — Todd McLellan opted to go with Stalock over Antti Niemi despite the Sharks’ long-standing starter needing no rest and suffering no injury. Niemi had a strong start to the season, but he’s become increasingly shaky as time has worn on. Compare Nemo’s 29-13-6 record, .911 save percentage and 2.41 goals against average to Stalock’s numbers: 10-4-0, .933 save percentage and a ridiculous 1.78 goals against average. Then compare Niemi’s 16 save, 3 goals against performance in Buffalo to Stalock’s 23 save, 2 goals against performance in New Jersey.
The defense in front of the two goalies isn’t changing, but Stalock looks a lot more comfortable than Niemi has this season. Let these GIFs serve as evidence:
Those last two are from the first period, in which Stalock faced five scoring chances, including the two breakaways seen above. He stopped them all (H/T: @fearthefin).
The hard truth: Niemi will continue to see the bulk of the playing time, so for those of you hoping my “goaltender controversy” hypothesis is real … sorry. Still, Stalock’s start today is indicative of the coaching staff’s waning attitude towards Niemi. It appears he’s officially fighting for what he’s always enjoyed — consistent playing time — and if Niemi doesn’t start playing to the level of his backup, things could get shaken up come playoff time.
Onto the game
Joe Pavelski continued to pad his resume as the Sharks’ most important player Sunday, notching two assists on goals that positively wouldn’t have happened without him. San Jose opened up the scoring with a goal from Logan Couture that looked a little something like this …
But the Devils answered on the very next shift with a score from Adam Henrique. San Jose retook the lead after Pavelski decided to step in, going tic-tac-toe with Raffi Torres:
Good God that was pretty. In two games back, Torres has three goals and a 1.00 shooting percentage. I’m sure that’s not anomalous in any way, shape or form, but even if it is, you can’t deny Torres’s smarts and savvy. Widening the rink by cutting outside before passing to Pavelski was exactly what gave him such a wide open net.
Then Pavelski struck again in the third with the Sharks facing a tie game. This drop pass to Matt Nieto gave San Jose the game-winner:
Todd McLellan was up to his same old tricks when it came to shuffling lines Sunday — a frustrating fact considering the elation I felt realizing that he finally sat Burish and Brown in the same game. He moved Brent Burns off of the Joe Thornton line and put together a third line that made absolutely no sense (Havlat, Sheppard, Burns). While I didn’t agree with some of the lines, I was pretty happy with the bench McLellan trotted out, which naturally means we probably won’t see it very often.
For now, it’s just good to see Torres and Couture contributing. And more of Stalock, too.