2013-14 San Jose Sharks Season preview: The goaltending
We conclude our preview of the Sharks' 2013-14 season with a look at where they stand between the pipes.
Age: 30 Height: 6-2 Weight: 210
2013-14 Cap Hit: $3,800,000 through 2014-15
2013 Stats: 46 GP, 24-12-6, .924 SV%, 2.16 GAA, .930 EVSV%
Last Season: Niemi was the Sharks' MVP. Not much needs to be said beyond that but we'll say it anyway. For much of February and March, Niemi's play was the only thing keeping the Sharks at all competitive in the Western Conference as their inability to convert at the other end of the ice caused them to rely heavily on every last save for a chance at victory. Niemi posted a career-best .924 SV% in the shortened season and finished second in Vezina Trophy balloting behind Columbus' Sergei Bobrovsky. Confirmation bias is a hell of a drug but it did legitimately appear like the Finnish netminder improved his rebound control as well as his lateral mobility, particularly on the penalty kill where he posted numbers much improved from his first two seasons as a Shark.
This Season: Expectations should probably be at least partially tempered regarding Niemi's 2013-14 season. After all, 2013 was just 48 games long; most goalies experience peaks and valleys over the course of a full year and it's possible we only saw Niemi's peaks in the shortened season. Still, 2013 wasn't really all that out of line with Niemi's previous two seasons as a Shark, particularly his 2010-11 campaign when he claimed the starting job from Antero Niittymaki and helped the team surge to a division title with a spectacular second half. His career SV% is now a very good .917; even if he regresses to that level of goaltending, it should be enough for San Jose to make the playoffs. Barring an injury, Niemi simply isn't a concern.
Key Stat: Since Niemi became a Shark, only Tim Thomas, Henrik Lundqvist and Roberto Luongo have posted higher even-strength save percentages than him.
Age: 26 Height: 6-0 Weight: 190
2013-14 Cap Hit: $625,000 through 2013-14
2013 Stats: 38 GP, 17-6-4, .912 SV%, 2.60 GAA (Worcester AHL)
Last Season: Just three days after entering a game against Phoenix in relief of Niemi and posting a shutout the rest of the way as the Sharks completed a comeback from 3-0 down, Alex Stalock had a nerve on the back of his knee inadvertently sliced by an opposing player's skate blade in the AHL. That was back in 2011. After rehabbing for the rest of that season and nearly the entirety of 2011-12, a good deal of which occurred while massive uncertainty mounted regarding his future in hockey, Stalock returned last season to play a full year with Worcester where he posted a .912 SV% and 17-6-4 record.
This Season: After Thomas Greiss signed in Phoenix as a free agent, the battle to back up Niemi ostensibly came down to Stalock and Harri Sateri. Realistically, Sateri never had much of a chance and Stalock unsurprisingly emerged from training camp victorious. In his five years as head coach, Todd McLellan has given his starting goaltenders a combined 80.8% of all starts. And that's despite the fact that he's had good and proven backups over that span, including Brian Boucher and Niittymaki. As a result I don't expect Stalock to play much but he'll be relied on for at least replacement-level goaltending when he does.
Key Stat: On 2,459 AHL shots over his career, Stalock has posted a .907 SV%.