When the San Jose Sharks take on the Calgary Flames tonight, it won’t be the usual guy in net for the boys in teal. Antti Niemi will take a seat on the bench while head coach Todd McLellan hopes that moving to Alex Stalock can help jolt a winless-in-November team awake.
The typical No. 2 hasn’t started a game since beating the Ottawa Senators 5-2 on October 27, and has appeared in only one other game all season long.
Niemi is first in the NHL in minutes played by a goaltender. For the most part he’s been outstanding for San Jose, but the squad is winless in five—a fact that isn’t lost on McLellan as he goes to Stalock between the pipes. He spoke to Curtis Pashelka of the San Jose Mercury News about the switch earlier today:
Every decision we make is based on the fact we haven’t won in five games. We’re trying to win the game and trying to put things together. We’re on a five-game road trip with five games in eight nights, and to expect (Niemi) to every minute is unreasonable, so Alex will get the start here.
To be honest, this seems like the perfect time to go to the backup. Niemi is a workhorse, but he hasn’t been dominating games lately like he did early on. Perhaps watching a contest or two from the bench over the next few nights will give him ample time to reflect and rest up for another solid stretch run.
Stalock hasn’t been a pushover by any means in his limited minutes, and the Flames aren’t exactly the most offensively productive squad in the NHL right now. While Calgary started the season hot, they’ve cooled off considerably and haven’t scored more than three goals in any of their last six games.
If the Sharks are going to play a complete effort and not fall behind on this road trip, winning tonight is extremely important.