Stalock, Sheppard are bright spots


Stalock, Sheppard are bright spots

It seems there is little good these days in the realm of news from the hockey world. But venture to the San Jose Sharks' AHL affiliate in Worcester, Massachusetts and you will find two uplifting stories of life and sport.

Goaltender Al Stalock has played one career NHL game. In 30 minutes of backup work on Feb. 1, 2011, he faced nine shots and stopped them all, leading the Sharks to a 5-3 comeback win over Phoenix. Just three days later, on what was supposed to be a temporary minor league assignment, Stalock had a nerve behind his left knee sliced by the skate blade of an opponent while attempting to make a save.

"It was a freak deal," Stalock told me. "But I'm lucky it wasn't worse, to tell you the truth."

The physical recovery wasn't the only one the goaltender had to make, in jumping right back into crowded creases.

"It was just getting over the mental hump of not having that in the back of your head," Stalock said. "That was the part that was the hardest to get over, and now, I don't even really think about it much anymore. I'm beyond that point."

Stalock returned to game action late last season, a little more than a year since that injury, which had the potential to end his career. Now, after a more routine offseason, he's back into full swing, posting a 9-5-1 record with a 2.57 GAA in his first 16 games.

"This year's been huge, being part of the team," said Stalock. "You don't travel much when you're hurt, being in the locker room during the games, you're away from the team. It's nice to be back, and feeling like a regular everyday player."

Stalock says his lone taste of the NHL serves as high motivation to return -- sooner rather than later.

Forward James Sheppard fractured his left knee in an ATV accident on Sept. 7, 2010, and has not played in an NHL game since. The ninth overall draft pick from 2006 was acquired by the Sharks via trade in August of 2011, with the understanding he would still need months of recovery and rehabilitation.

"They traded for me when I wasn't even ready to play hockey," Sheppard told me. "They gave me a chance and opened the door for me to have a new opportunity. I'm really just excited to give something back to them -- starting here in Worcester and then hopefully in San Jose."

Sheppard spent most of his off-ice time in San Jose last season, working with trainers for one common goal: To get back into a competitive game. That mission was accomplished in February, as he played four tilts with the Worcester Sharks. This year, after 26 games played in the AHL, he's got six goals and eight assists.

"It was a long two years being on your own schedule," Sheppard said. "To be here as just another guy going to practice is a great feeling. You feel more at home, you feel part of something bigger."

"Shep," as they call him, is a three-year veteran of the NHL. While most of his colleagues are unlucky to be locked out this season, he's fortunate the situation allows him to continue playing competitively...and building back to a future in the highest league.  

"To be honest, I'm not thinking about it," says Sheppard. "I'm glad we've got people taking care of that business so I can just focus on being here."

The return to normalcy for Stalock and Sheppard are most certainly bright spots in their careers, and bright spots in the Sharks organization during dark times in the NHL.

"It's tough for any young athlete to go through injuries like we have," said Sheppard. "For me and Al, it's something we want to forget about and just be hockey players again. You're going to get better and learn more when you're having fun, and that's what we're doing right now."

NHL Gameday: Sharks expect better Blue Jackets this time

NHL Gameday: Sharks expect better Blue Jackets this time

Programming note: Sharks-Blue Jackets coverage starts tonight at 7pm with Sharks Pregame Live on CSN California. Sharks Insider Kevin Kurz will appear on SportsTalk Live on CSN Bay Area, beginning at 5pm.


Sharks: 4-3-0, 8 points, 3rd Pacific Division
Blue Jackets: 2-2-1, 5 points, 7th Metropolitan Division


***Less than two weeks after their meeting in Columbus, a 3-2 Sharks win, the Blue Jackets visit San Jose to wrap up the season series. San Jose is coming off of a 2-1 overtime win on Tuesday against Anaheim in the first of a three-game homestand.

Columbus is 2-0-1 since losing to the Sharks, beating Chicago and Dallas and losing on Tuesday in overtime in Los Angeles.

Joe Pavelski said: “They are one of those teams that you know you’re going to get an honest game from them, and they’re going to play hard and try to come at you.”

***The Sharks led 2-0 after two periods in the previous meeting with Columbus before withstanding a push from the Blue Jackets in the third. 

Pete DeBoer said: “They didn’t lie down. They didn’t quit. They took it to us in the third period and put us on our heels, and I think they carried that into winning their last three games. 

“I’m sure we’re going to get their best game here tonight, and just watching their recent tape, they look like they’re playing with some confidence.”

***Martin Jones will start his fourth straight game in net, while Micheal Haley will remain in for Matt Nieto on the fourth line.

The fourth line generated some quality scoring chances against the Ducks, and took three shifts in the third period of what was a 1-1 game. Tommy Wingels, who moved to the wing from center before the game, said the approach doesn’t change whether it’s Haley or Nieto in their group, which now features Chris Tierney in the middle.

“Is it a different guy doing it, maybe more possession and not as much speed? Absolutely, but same mentality, same game plan, and same look to execute,” Wingels said.

DeBoer said: “I don’t judge those guys by goals or points. It’s, are they hopping over the boards? Are they creating energy? Are they wearing down the other team? I think that line did that all night.”


Sharks: Marc-Edouard Vlasic. The defenseman scored a highlight-reel goal in overtime on Tuesday against the Ducks, flying past Corey Perry and beating goalie John Gibson. It was the first goal by a Sharks defenseman not scored by Brent Burns. Vlasic, who is coming off of his best offensive season a year ago with 48 points, has two points this season (1g, 1a) and an even rating.

Blue Jackets: Zach Werenski. The eighth overall pick of the 2015 draft (just before the Sharks chose Timo Meier), Werenski has five points in five games (2g, 3a) to start his NHL career. The 19-year-old is the first rookie in Blue Jackets history to have points in his first four career games, including a goal against the Sharks on Oct. 12.


Mikkel Boedker – Joe Thornton – Joe Pavelski
Joonas Donskoi – Logan Couture – Joel Ward
Patrick Marleau – Tomas Hertl – Melker Karlsson
Micheal Haley – Chris Tierney – Tommy Wingels

Marc-Edouard Vlasic – Justin Braun
Paul Martin – Brent Burns
Brenden Dillon – David Schlemko

Martin Jones (confirmed starter)
Aaron Dell

Blue Jackets
Brandon Saad - Alexander Wennberg - Nick Foligno
Boone Jenner - Brandon Dubinsky - Cam Atkinson
Matt Calvert - William Karlsson - Josh Anderson
Scott Hartnell - Lukas Sedlak - Sam Gagner

Zach Werenski – Seth Jones
Jack Johnson – David Savard
Dalton Prout – Markus Nutivaara

Sergei Bobrovsky (confirmed starter)
Curtis McElhinney


Sharks: None.

Blue Jackets: Ryan Murray (upper body) is out.


“We were great. Just look at the chances. We controlled a lot of the play, other than the 5-on-3 [where] they had a few chances. There really wasn't much other than that." – Martin Jones, after the Sharks’ 2-1 overtime win over Anaheim on Tuesday

Burns getting his points, but other Sharks d-men are not

Burns getting his points, but other Sharks d-men are not

SAN JOSE – Brent Burns has resumed his place among the NHL’s highest scoring defensemen. His nine points (3g, 6a) puts him first among all blueliners, and ties him for second overall in the league scoring race with six others.

For the rest of the Sharks’ defense corps, though, the points haven’t been there just yet. Marc-Edouard Vlasic’s overtime score on Tuesday was the first goal by a Sharks defenseman that employs the use of a razor on a regular basis, while he and the four others on the back end have combined for just three assists in seven games.

While that lack of production is reflected in the team’s goals-per game average – 2.26, 26th in the NHL – coach Pete DeBoer isn’t all that concerned. He attributes it more to being unlucky than anything else.

“We’ve put a lot of pressure on the other team five-on-five. The puck has bounced, or we just haven’t finished,” DeBoer said. “We’re getting some chances. Most nights we’re out-chancing the other team, and usually that’s a formula for success for us.”

The Sharks have been a strong team in terms of possession, as the coach indicated. They are averaging 32.4 shots per game, fourth in the NHL, and are second in the NHL in shot attempt percentage in close games (56.3 percent).

Still, they could have more. Vlasic, Justin Braun, David Schlemko, Paul Martin and Brenden Dillon have a combined 51 shots on goal, but they’ve also had 48 attempts that have been blocked. In fact, Braun and Martin both have had more attempts blocked than have that made it through to the goalie.

“Five-on-five we haven’t really been getting the tips or the dirty goals around the net that come off shots, but that starts with us getting it through,” said Braun, who has seven shots, but 12 that have been blocked. “The more shots we can get towards the net the better chance we’ll have for the forwards to bang some home, and go from there.”

David Schlemko is also scoreless through seven games, but he managed six shots against the Ducks on Tuesday and has 17 for the year (with 13 blocked). Other than Burns, he’s been the Sharks’ most effective defenseman at getting the puck through.

Brenden Dillon (nine shots, eight blocked) and Paul Martin (five shots, 10 blocked) have one assist each.

Martin indicated that it gets harder and harder every year to get shots through, as more teams commit to getting in lanes. The Sharks also make it a point to put the puck on Burns’ stick as much as they can, considering how much of a weapon he is. Both are factors in those low point totals.

“A lot of times we key on making sure that [Burns] gets the puck. But teams do a better job each year at getting in lanes and blocking shots and fronting pucks and packing it in [around the net],” Martin said. “It’s harder to get pucks through to the net than it used to be.”

The primary role of the defense, of course, is to defend. Except for some notable lapses against the Rangers and Red Wings, the Sharks have been doing that fairly well, holding the opposition to just 24.9 shots per game, second in the NHL.

As long as they keep that up, and Burns continues to produce, the Sharks will be in a good position to win on a nightly basis.

“We’re defending well,” DeBoer said. “That’s our team defense, and that starts with us controlling the play, playing in the other team’s end [and] putting pressure on the other team. I think that’s something that we’ve prided ourselves on all the way back to the beginning of last year.”