Alex Stalock will make his first career playoff start for the San Jose Sharks in Game 6 tonight, and Matt Irwin will replace versatile defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic, who will not play due to an upper-body injury. The news was confirmed by Sharks head coach Todd McLellan following the team’s morning skate on Monday at Staples Center.
Vlasic, a gold medal winner with Canada at the 2014 Winter Olympics, suffered his injury in the first period of Saturday’s Game 5 during what was likely the follow through of a hit by Los Angeles’ Jarret Stoll. With a goal and two points through the first five games of the series – though he played only 5:38 on Saturday before suffering the injury – he trails only Dan Boyle in Sharks defensive scoring. During the regular season, his plus-31 rating led the team.
“You don’t try to replace one person, I don’t think,” Dan Boyle said. “You just do what you can to be at the best at what you do. Matty Irwin is coming in. I’ve played with Matty before. He’s very capable of handling himself out there. He’s a very good hockey player and we’re just going to do the job as a unit of six out there and as a team.”
It is unclear when Vlasic will be able to re-enter the lineup.
“I wish I could give you a time,” McLellan said.
Irwin recorded 19 points (2-17=19) and averaged 18:48 of ice time in his sophomore NHL season. The 26-year-old appeared in all seven games in last year’s seven-game playoff series between the teams.
“He’s a different player than Marc-Edouard and at a different level,” McLellan said of Irwin. “But again, the collective group has to play better than it did in Game 5. Matt Irwin will get that opportunity to go in and play. If we approach the game with a dramatic change in strategy because of Marc-Edouard not being involved, I think that would be a great mistake. We have to play our game. We’ve played it throughout the year with Matt Irwin in the lineup and that will have to continue.”
Having posted a 3.90 goals-against average and an .882 save percentage, Antti Niemi will not get the call for Game 6. A 2010 Stanley Cup winner with the Chicago Blackhawks, Niemi has been pulled in consecutive games and four of his 18 career postseason appearances against the Kings.
Stalock, 26, has stopped all 26 shots over 57 minutes and two seconds of career postseason experience – all of which was logged in Games 4 and 5. He was on the losing end of Jonathan Quick’s 23-save shutout at the SAP Center on January 27, having stopped 20 of 21 shots. In 24 regular season games, Stalock was 12-5-2 with two shutouts, posting a 1.87 goals-against average and a .932 save percentage.
“Obviously playing against them in the playoffs and in the American League, a lot of these guys, but playing against them in the regular season this year, I got a game against them…,” Stalock said of his experience against Los Angeles. “Also, sitting on the bench watching these guys, you know how they play. You know who is a shooter and who is a passer, that type and it’s good. We know them, we know them so well. How many times have we played them in the past and the playoffs too? It’s a big game for us and I think special teams, as it has been in the series, is crucial.”
Alex Stalock, on being excited about starting his first playoff game:
Definitely, it’s a chance to obviously close out the series and that’s the ultimate goal.
Stalock, on what he has seen in the series so far:
I think it’s, with everybody surrounding the series, it’s a little different than we thought it was going to play out with the goal scoring and the offense. We’ve talked. It’s going to get back to the what we’ve played during the year and ultimately we know how they’re going to play and the start is crucial tonight. Hopefully we can end it tonight.
Stalock, on being aware of Los Angeles’ forecheck when he is playing the puck:
Like you said, play my game and if there is a chance to go out and play a puck that’s going to help us, it’s my plan to go out and do it. But it’s a road game. It has to be a simple game and ultimately it’s stopping the puck.
Stalock, on his previous playoff game experience being helpful:
Yeah I think so, playing in both rinks too and getting a feel for the series, the speed and the intensity. Obviously getting a chance to start tonight, it’ll be a lot of fun.
Stalock, on what he remembers from facing the Kings in the regular season:
It was a game where there wasn’t many chances. They got a good chance at the end of the second and that’s all they needed. It’s probably what we expected at the beginning of the series, but just work on eliminating chances like that and keeping their big guys off the board.
Dan Boyle, on Matt Irwin’s playoff experience:
I think Matty is a great player. I’m not just saying that because I have to. I really think he shoots the puck, he skates well. He makes good decisions. He’s poised. He brings a lot of good things and I truly mean that.
Boyle, on Stalock’s ability to play the puck:
We get ask the question a lot ‘what is the difference when another goaltender comes in?’ There is literally no difference, with that exception I think. When the goalie plays the puck a little bit more, I don’t know if you necessarily change the way you play, but you certainly have to be aware that he’s going to make some passes and they’re coming a little quicker on your tape. So just be aware that he can move the puck and put yourself in a position to receive it.
Boyle, on Stalock’s puck handling helping to offset the loss of Marc-Edouard Vlasic:
I see what you’re saying. I still don’t think Matt is coming in without any games under his belt. As young as he is, he’s played the game and he’s been in playoff hockey. As a D-man, yeah, it’s always welcomed when a goalie can help you out in certain situations where the other team’s forecheck is coming in on you pretty good.
Todd McLellan, on Stalock starting in goal:
Alex Stalock will start. [Reporter: What was the decision making process?] Alex Stalock will start today and we’ve made our decision.
McLellan, on Vlasic being out of the lineup:
It’s a loss to our hockey club, but it’s one we can overcome. Good teams that have opportunities to win and move on overcome adversity and this is one of those situations. So we feel that Matt Irwin or Matt Tennyson can go into that position and play. They’re different players and they’re different levels of experience, but both of them have National Hockey League experience and are capable of getting it done. It’s not about the one you lose, it’s about the collective group as a whole that has to pull together. We can overcome that loss.
McLellan, on Stalock’s experience against Los Angeles:
We can work backwards. Throughout the year I was asked that question a lot and it was part of the plan in case you ever have to go to something like this. Alex is excited about playing and we’re excited about having him play.