Alex Stalock made his first NHL start in two years when the San Jose Sharks played the Nashville Predators at SAP Center in San Jose on Saturday.
Stalock, who was acquired in a trade with the Edmonton Oilers on Wednesday, was not expected to play this season because of a heart condition that caused him to miss last season. The 34-year-old played 62 games with the Sharks from 2011-16 after they selected him in the fourth round (No. 112) of the 2005 NHL Draft.
“Yeah, he hasn’t played a lot of hockey and it’s a pretty good story, him coming back here to a team he has history with,” San Jose coach Bob Boughner said. “One thing is, he’s a well-liked guy in that dressing room and the guys are going to play hard for him. It’s an opportunity for him to get his career back on track at the NHL level.”
Stalock was diagnosed with inflammation with myocarditis, an of the heart muscle, after contracting COVID-19 in November 2020. He was claimed off waivers by the Oilers from the Minnesota Wild on March 1, 2021, and was 3-1-0 with a 3.81 goals-against average and an .862 save percentage in five games for Bakersfield of the American Hockey League this season.
He last played an NHL game on Aug. 7, 2020, when with the Wild he allowed five goals on 31 shots in a 5-4 overtime loss to the Vancouver Canucks in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Qualifiers. That was his last professional game until this Jan. 23, when he allowed five goals on 30 shots for Bakersfield in a 5-2 loss to the San Jose Barracuda.
“Early on, it was tough, 18 months off,” Stalock said Thursday. “You’re doing a lot of medical testing. It gets kind of old; you get sick of it. [But I] got some good news in December and started ramping it up back home in Minnesota. [I] came out to California in January, got cranked up, got into some games [and was] feeling good again.”
The Sharks are without goals James Reimerwho is out week to week, and Adin Hill; each has a lower-body injury. Rookie Zach Sawchenko backed up Stalock against the Predators.
Reimer was injured Tuesday during a 3-1 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights. He started 13 consecutive games, including two back-to-back sets, before Sawchenko made 18 saves in relief against the Golden Knights.
“It didn’t feel like something was right,” Reimer said. “This whole run … in that game against Vegas, that might be the best, or randomly the most energy I’ve had, and the best my body’s felt, and that’s the game where it decides to not work. You can look into things whichever way you want, but I know I felt really good going into that game.”
Reimer was 15-12-5 with a 2.84 GAA, .916 save percentage and one shutout in 34 games (33 starts) this season. The Sharks (24-24-6) were 2-5-4 in their past 11 games and trailed the Predators by 10 points for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Western Conference.
“It’s probably just fatigue,” Boughner said. “We need to shut him down for a few days here and see how he feels. I don’t think it’s season-ending or anything like that. It’s just a week-to-week thing.
“You’re a team that’s fighting for your lives… you want to go with your No. 1 option, your best option, give yourself the best chance possible. I was very wary of putting him in those back-to-back situations … but ‘Reims’ has reacted well to both, and he had a few days off after that before we went to Vegas.”
Stalock was 20-11-4 with a 2.67 GAA, .910 save percentage and four shutouts in 38 regular-season games (36 starts) for the Wild in 2019-20 and 1-3 with a 3.03 GAA, .897 save percentage and one shutout in four postseason games. He was 61-49-18 with a 2.61 GAA, .909 save percentage and nine shutouts in 151 NHL games (123 starts) with San Jose and Minnesota.
“The most important part is knowing you can come back and play, and the excitement of playing hockey again,” Stalock said. “That to me was the biggest thing. To get through that first game was kind of an emotional deal, to be able to say I can still do this.”
NHL.com independent correspondent Chelena Goldman contributed to this report