Programming note: Stars-Sharks coverage gets underway Saturday at 7 p.m. with Sharks Pregame Live on Comcast SportsNet California
SAN JOSE – There will be a couple of firsts for Sharks goaltender Alex Stalock on Saturday night, when the Dallas Stars visit SAP Center.
For starters, the 26-year-old goaltender will be making his fifth career NHL start, but first in front of the home fans.
“I’ve only played here obviously in relief, so it will be fun coming out of the shark head and starting,” Stalock said.
Secondly, Stalock will appear in a game for the first time since suffering a regulation loss. The Minnesota native is 3-1-0 in four starts this season and 4-1-1 in his career, but his last time out, he allowed four goals to the Carolina Hurricanes in a 5-3 loss on Dec. 6.
The Sharks had a 2-0 lead, but Carolina scored once in the second period and four more times in the third (including an empty net goal) to take the win.
Stalock had been the Sharks’ best player up to the midway point of regulation of that game, but a Jay Harrison shot hit the end boards and deflected off of the back of Stalock’s pads and in. In the third, Stalock was unable to freeze a loose puck about seven minutes in, leading to Jordan Staal’s game-winner.
“It’s amazing how quick a game turns around. It’s a learning experience,” Stalock said on Saturday morning. “You try to take everything from every game you play in. It was start number four. I learned a lot from that start, and tonight it will be new stuff.”
Stalock’s last appearance at SAP Center was on Nov. 7, in relief of Antti Niemi. He stopped all 21 shots he saw in a 4-2 Sharks loss in his second career home appearance.
Stalock will give Niemi the night off, after Niemi allowed four goals in a 4-1 loss to Los Angeles on Thursday. Niemi is just 9-6-5 with a 2.76 goals-against average and .904 save percentage in his last 20 starts, dating back to the end of October.
Niemi has started 14 of the last 15 games, so action has been rare for Stalock, who has a 2.06 goals-against average and .930 save percentage. He’s tried to maintain his skills in practice.
“You obviously don’t want to be comfortable with this role because everybody’s ultimate goal is to play in this league,” he said. “That’s still my goal. To stay sharp, you have to be at your best in practice, and that’s what I try to do.”
Todd McLellan said: “Players have a tendency to play for him, but it's about him getting his chance to go again.”
* * *
McLellan said Logan Couture would be fine to play against the Stars, despite the center missing practice on Friday and staying off of the ice for the team’s optional morning skate on Saturday.
Couture is among a number of players mired in a scoring slump, with two goals in his last 17 games and none in his last eight. Brent Burns has just one goal and one assist in his last 10 games, Tyler Kennedy is scoreless in his last 10, and Tommy Wingels has one assist in his last six.
Tomas Hertl’s injury means other guys will have to fill the void left by the 20-year-old, who is second on the team with 15 goals.
“Tomas is a big part of this team, and has been from the get-go,” Wingels said. “His goal-scoring, as a group in this room, we have to find a way to pick up that slack.
“I think we’re more than capable of doing that. We have guys in here who can elevate their games, myself included, and find a way to score those goals that we’ve lost with Tomas not being in the lineup.”