SAN JOSE – Antti Niemi is not at all surprised that his backup, Alex Stalock, is having an impressive first full season in the NHL.
“Not really, the way he is in practice and how hard he practices,” Niemi said. “He wants to be out there. He doesn’t want to take the short, easy route out there.”
Despite recording his second straight shutout on Thursday in a 1-0 win over Winnipeg, Stalock will take his familiar spot on the bench when the Sharks host Minnesota on Saturday. Stalock owns a 7-2-0 record, with a 1.62 goals-against average and .942 save percentage, while Niemi is 26-10-6 with a 2.38 GAA and .913 SP.
Niemi, second in the league in wins this year and a Vezina Trophy finalist last season, is still the man between the pipes for San Jose. Don’t expect that to change any time soon, unless something drastic occurs. After all, Niemi has won four of his last five starts, surrendering just nine goals over that span.
“I think we have a hot hand in both,” Todd McLellan said of his goalies on Friday. “When you’re on whatever streak we are, six [wins] in the last seven [games], I know Nemo’s been part of that, too. It takes the whole team. It takes everybody to be involved. There’s no reason for Nemo to be punished just because Alex gets his shutouts.
“We’ll continue with the plan we have in place. You’ll see both of them play from now until the Olympic break. It’s just what we’re doing.”
McLellan has suggested that Stalock will see more action as Niemi will join Team Finland for the games in Sochi. Niemi is second in the league among goaltenders with 43 games played, and second in overall minutes, too.
The Sharks’ coach is conscious of Niemi’s extended playing time, but doesn’t seem overly concerned about it. He’s actually more fearful of giving Niemi too long of a break.
“I have more concern when we rest Nemo than when we play him,” McLellan said. “[Goalies] have the ability to play and get in a roll and rhythm, and things just happen for them. When you take them out of that, and they go extended periods without starts, sometimes you’re spending an extra three or four days to just get him back into the groove. So, we don’t want to lose that, but we’re also aware of his workload.”
The 30-year-old Niemi and 26-year-old Stalock appear to have a good working relationship.
“It’s great. He comes to me and asks questions on the ice – ‘why do you do it this way?’ We talk about stuff, so it’s perfect,” Niemi said.
He’s glad that Stalock is excelling, but that doesn’t change his approach.
“Maybe it takes a little pressure off me, but either way I’ve got to be able to perform every game that I play,” Niemi said.