Sharks face big decision in goal for Game 6

Sunday, 04.27.2014 / 5:43 PM
Eric Gilmore  - Correspondent

SAN JOSE -- After he waited until the morning of Game 1 of his team's Western Conference First Round series against the Los Angeles Kings to publicly name Antti Niemi his starting goaltender, San Jose Sharks coach Todd McLellan said it was an easy decision and one he had actually made days before.

McLellan has another goaltender decision to make before Game 6 Monday night at Staples Center (10 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS, CSN-CA, PRIME) after pulling Niemi in Games 4 and 5. This time, it might not be so easy.

Niemi gave up eight goals on 45 shots in Games 4 and 5, and the Sharks lost back-to-back games and saw their lead in this best-of-7 series shrink to 3-2.

Alex Stalock came off the bench to stop all four shots he faced in Game 4 and all 22 he faced in Game 5.

"We've got to talk about that yet today," McLellan said Sunday after the Sharks' practice. "We'll make a decision and let him know when it's time."

What goes into the goaltender decision?

"We sit down and we look at past experience," McLellan said. "We look at how that individual is playing at the moment. We look at how the team's responding around him. We look at the confidence level of the individual. We look at the workload that individual has had. We look at the upcoming schedule. We look at where we are in a practice rotation."

Niemi has the clear edge in Stanley Cup Playoffs experience. He won the Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010 and has appeared in 61 playoff games. Stalock, however, has better numbers than Niemi this postseason and, for that matter, had better numbers in the regular season.

Stalock went 12-5-2 with a 1.87 goals-against average and a .932 save percentage. Niemi went 39-17-7 with a 2.39 goals-against average and a .913 save percentage. Stalock also has better stick handling and passing skills, which could help the Sharks get the puck out of their zone against the Kings, which has been a problem the past two games.

"Al's always looked good," Sharks forward Logan Couture said. "I've been with Al for years. I was with him in the minors. I've seen him play a lot of games. I'm confident with Al, and I'm confident with Nemo, both of them. I've been around Al for a while. He's a battler.

"The last game I don't really think that was Nemo's fault. We gave up 18 shots in the first period. Hung him out to dry on those goals. Both guys we're confident in."

For what it's worth, Stalock was the first goaltender off the ice Sunday, going to the dressing room long before Niemi. Stalock typically stays on the ice much longer than he did Sunday for practices the day before games when he's not in the lineup.

Stalock made his Stanley Cup Playoffs debut in Game 4, taking over less than a minute into the third period. He took over in Game 5 less than a minute into the second period.

"It was good," Stalock said. "I've said before we even started, I haven't personally been in playoffs since my rookie year [with Worcester of the American Hockey League]. Just to be back in them, it's a fun time of year. It's the goal, obviously, every year to get in. Get some chances and make the most of it."

McLellan said Stalock "looked pretty good" in his two relief efforts. "He looked good in practice. We have two to pick from."

Stalock didn't sound fazed by the possibility of making his first postseason start for the Sharks.

"All year it's been just being ready," he said. "If it is, you get a chance and you go in."

While McLellan pondered his goaltender decision, the Sharks tried to move past their disappointing 3-0 loss in Game 5 and get ready for Game 6.

"They took it to us at the start of that game," Couture said. "We expected better out of ourselves and we didn't get it from player to player. No one was very good. So yeah, it was disappointing for sure that we didn't play better [Saturday] in front of our home crowd with what we had in front of us, an opportunity to close out a series. But we still got an opportunity going into L.A. to do the same thing. We know it's going to be difficult so we're going to need to be a lot better."

The Sharks reviewed video of their Game 5 loss then hit the ice for a high-tempo practice.

"We're still in the driver's seat," McLellan said. "We like where we're at. It would have been nice to get a win in Game 4, but it didn't happen. We didn't play well in Game 5 and it didn't happen.

"I still think we have a great opportunity in front of us. ... We earned the right to be ahead, and now we have to make good on it."

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