SAN JOSE – Maybe it truly was an open competition for the Sharks’ backup goalie position, as Sharks brass said it would be all summer long. Or, maybe it wasn’t. Regardless, the expected has occurred as it will be Alex Stalock on the far end of the San Jose bench on Thursday night when the club opens up its 22nd NHL season.
“It’s a start, but there’s plenty of work to do,” Stalock said on Monday.
It’s not a surprise, in that Stalock is more experienced than fellow training camper Harri Sateri, has been with the organization longer, and has historically posted better numbers.
The 26-year-old Minnesota native, who has three games of NHL experience and a career-threatening injury on his resume, expressed gratitude towards the organization for re-signing him after a nerve injury in his left leg in AHL Worcester on Feb. 4, 2011 sidelined him for nearly a year. It happened just three days after Stalock recorded a win in his first NHL appearance against Phoenix in relief of Antti Niemi.
“It’s been quite a four or five years,” said Stalock, who was drafted in the fourth round in 2005 and signed a one-year contract extension this summer. “It’s amazing the way the organization stuck with me, and now giving me a chance to get back to where I was at a few years ago is pretty special, and I’m looking forward to it.”
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In 38 games with Worcester last season, Stalock was 17-16-4 with a 2.60 goals-against average and .912 save percentage for the offensively-starved club that missed out on the postseason. It was his fourth season with the Sharks’ primary minor league affiliate, although he played just five AHL games between Worcester and Peoria in 2011-12 while recovering from the nerve injury.
He split time with Sateri last season, but if he remains Antti Niemi’s backup in 2013-14, he’ll probably have to get used to seeing the net much less frequently. Niemi, a Vezina finalist a season ago, prefers to play as much as possible and could get upwards of 70 starts if he remains healthy and effective.
Stalock understands that. Part of his role as backup, though, will be to keep Niemi on his toes and perhaps even push the 30-year-old Finland native.
“You need to play to stay on top of your game, and he loves to do that and he’s able to do it,” Stalock said of his partner.
“[Throughout] the whole organization there is going to be everybody pushing each other, like you want every year. Especially up here, to help to continue to make Nemo better and take another step, and at the same time push each other, I think is good.”
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Adam Burish suffered a “setback” from his lower body injury, but could return to the ice as soon as Tuesday, McLellan said. It’s fair to say he’s questionable for opening night.
Defenseman Brad Stuart is close to game-ready after rehabbing a lower body injury of his own. “We’re hoping that he’s ready for Thursday,” McLellan said.