With the regular season well underway, several Sharks fans might notice that each night they turn on the television, they see a different goaltender in net than the game previous. Thursday night marked the first time this season that a Sharks goaltender will start successive games, as Antti Niemi got the nod against the visiting Columbus Blue Jackets, after his 5-3 loss on the road Tuesday in Boston. Niemi lost 5-4 to the Blue Jackets and it was back to Alex Stalock on Saturday against the Buffalo Sabres in a 2-1 loss, and then right back to Niemi again on Sunday against the Anaheim Ducks in a 4-1 victory, ending a four game slide.
This situation might be eerily similar to another to Sharks fans that remember the goaltending tandem of Evgeni Nabokov and Vesa Toskala, who previously battled for the number one goalie spot under previous coach Ron Wilson.
Many thought Sharks coach Todd McClellan was making a statement when he chose Stalock as his opening night starter, and now, most of those statements have subsided. “We’re comfortable playing either one,” McLellan told Bob McManaman of The San Jose Mercury News earlier this season. “We’d like to get Alex a little more work this year than we did last year, there’s no doubt about that. They both know that.” When asked if the Sharks would have a number one goalie this season, McLellan responded, “I think we have 1-A and 1-B, and we want to play both of them. We play 16 of our first 21 on the road, I think, so both goaltenders are going to need to play and play a lot, and that’s a perfect scenario for our team — we’re going to need both of them.”
With it being a contract year for traditional starter Niemi, perhaps the Sharks are amping up Stalock’s play in the event the re-signing of Niemi isn’t a possibility for the club. Niemi is the goalie that’s made 82% of the Sharks starts the last two seasons, and he is well known for being a workhorse around the league. The argument could also be made that general manager Doug Wilson wants all of his goalie talent showcased in the event he wants to move one of them at the deadline.
One thing is for certain, goalies are an extremely valuable commodity in today’s NHL. We all saw how quickly Wilson snatched Niemi from the Blackhawks when he became a free agent. The Sharks are in a unique position in which they carry two elite NHL goaltenders that are both capable of being every day starters. It seems it will end up being like an episode of Survivor, the only question is, who will get voted off the island?