SAN JOSE- Let me begin by stating that Antti Niemi is an upper echelon goaltender, plenty capable of backstopping the Sharks to a Stanley Cup. Not only has he previously won a Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks but he’s put together spectacular regular seasons and playoff performances since arriving in San Jose. Last season in particular saw Niemi nominated for the Vezina Trophy as the league’s best goaltender.
However, goaltending is just a weird, weird position. Who would have predicted Niemi winning the Cup in 2010 as an undrafted rookie? Or Cam Ward winning the Cup as a rookie with Carolina in 2006, or Jaroslav Halak’s playoff run with Montreal a few years ago, or Braden Holtby’s playoff run?
Or what about Roberto Luongo’s up and down drama filled career in Vancouver? Or Evgeni Nabokov losing his job and gaining it back from Vesa Toskala with the Sharks in the mid 2000′s?
Goaltenders get hot, they get cold, they come out of nowhere, they alternate back and forth (Dominek Hasek, Chris Osgood) and are just generally unpredictable.
This is why many teams over the years have simply ridden the hot hand when it comes to their goaltenders, and right now the Sharks Antti Niemi is stone cold.
In his past seven starts, Niemi has been pulled twice, turned in a porous save percentage of just .897, and GAA of 3.83.
Yet for whatever reason, Sharks head coach Todd McLellan saw fit to start rookie backup netminder Alex Stalock just once during Niemi’s lousy seven game stretch. In his one start, Stalock was dynamite in stopping 44 of 46 Dallas Stars shots in a 3-2 shootout victory.
Combine that stellar performance with yet another great game in net against the Chicago Blackhawks this past Sunday, and Stalock is without a doubt the hot hand for the Sharks right now.
Despite playing half the game in Colorado the night before, Stalock stonewalled the best team in hockey in their building. The Blackhawks managed to beat Stalock just twice on 35 shots as San Jose prevailed again in the shootout by a 3-2 final.
For the season, Stalock has posted elite numbers. In his six starts, Stalock has combined for a .935 save percentage, and a 2.13 GAA.
The rookie tender has never been pulled in any of his starts and as I’ve said many times before, reminds me of a young Marty Turco. Like the former Stars goaltender, Stalock is smaller but incredibly acrobatic between the pipes and is quite adept at playing the puck.
He may be a rookie, but at 26-years-old, Stalock is no pup. He’s earned his spot in this league and his performance is worthy of a chance to steal away the number one job from Niemi.
Through 43 Sharks games, the ratio of Niemi starts to Stalock starts is 37-6. I don’t care how good your No. 1 netminder is, that is just an absurd ratio. The vast majority of recent Cup winning goaltenders have played at a pace of less than 70 games during a full 82 game schedule.
With the way Stalock has played this year he deserves a chance to prove he can do it on a nightly basis. The Sharks have 16 games left before the Olympic break, and Stalock deserves a chance at the very least to start five of those games. If he remains hot, then 8-10 starts over that stretch shouldn’t be out of the realm of a possibility.
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