Game 6: Will Stalock start? Will Vlasic play?
Quite a listless game 5 from the Sharks as the kings came out and dominated, and Quick regained his form. Niemi was pulled for the second straight game, bringing the question, will Stalock start game 6? Stalock looked solid on several kings opportunities, and plays a much more aggresive game than Niemi.
Ill be honest, I was not particularly high on Stalock. While not pleased at Niemi's regression this season, I had only seen 3 games with Stalock playing this season. One was a win against Calgary, in which he allowed 2 goals on 13 shots, 84.6% save percentage, another was a loss to Carolina, he allowed 4 goals on 34 shots, and finally, in March a game against the Avalanche, where we lost 3-1, despite outshooting them 49-22. In Short, I was one of the Shark fans terrified at the idea of Niemi getting injured and having to rely on him.
Strangely, I always heard praise for him from people. Thus, I looked his stats up in other games recently as questions began to fly about Niemi. I must have caught the 3 worst games Stalock played all year, because his numbers are actually quite impressive and now I find myself checking Sharks news as more and more fans seem to want to give him the shot. I find myself among them. He has played a full game's worth of playoff Hockey and has yet to let in a goal, and he looked confident and solid, despite the situation. I loved his puck handling, almost like a 3rd defenseman, a skill Niemi never bothered to learn(In fact, when he handles the puck, I usually sweat or shudder). Another thing that impressed me in comparison to Niemi was Stalock's rebound control.
Niemi has not looked good this playoff other than a few streaky moments. His play in OT against the Kings in game 3 was stellar and his high of the playoffs thus far, but he has also looked below average on several goals. Letting in 4 goals a game is not going to cut it. I understand when a goal is not completely a goalies fault, and can blame certain players lack of coverage(Sheppard, Boyle, Hannan and Stuart, I am looking at you), but sometimes, the goalie has to come up big when being hung to dry, and other than that OT, Niemi has just not done that.
My Vote for game 6 is to start Stalock and give the future a chance to prove himself. Niemi being pulled 2 games in a row calls for it.
On to the uglier side of things......
Stoll's hit looked routine to me, and the elbow did not look terribly hard to me, but the elbow after the fact certainly did something as Vlasic left the game in the first period and never returned and he is a virtual Iron man, rarely if ever missing time. TMac at the presser told us he has an upper body injury and is not guaranteed to play game 6. Furthermore, he did not skate with the team at practice today.
This is a huge blow to the Sharks. Vlasic is the undisputed best defenseman on the sharks. Defensively, he is Nick Lidstrom-esque, and his puck possession, retrieval and breakout passes are second to none on the team, making him much more important to offense than his stats indicate. Until this year, a lot of fans around the league did not even know who he was until they saw how solid he was in the Olympics.
Any forward on the team could have been taken out, and I would not panic because of our depth. On Defense, it is a different matter. The thought of Vlasic being out any amount of time is backbreaking. Please oh please Hockey God, let Vlasic be okay and healthy enough to play.
The options if he is out of course are a few things. Dress Irwin, who cannot give a check or take one without falling over(Against the kings? ugh) but has a good bomb of a shot, or move Burns back to defense, where he was just not playing as well for the Sharks as he is at forward. Since during the same practice that Vlasic missed they had Hertl playing in a top 6 role, with Pavelski centering the 3rd line, is is entirely possible Burns may move to Defense.
Overall, I would dress Irwin, but shelter his minutes. But I hope they do not need to. I Believe! Vlasic! You are IRON MAN.
Regarding other lineup changes, I am in favor of inserting Havlat. The player focus for me was originally Sheppard in the doghouse, and still kind of is, but his play along the boards has been a bright spot. But Brown has been less valuable the past 2 games. Havlat is nicknamed Mr Glass in San Jose, but he might just come out and play like he did in the Colorado game. He definitely has offensive upside over Brown, and right now we just can't score. When you hit an offensive wall, you change weapons. Havlat is made of glass, and usually needs time and space to work in the offensive zone that he does not get anymore, but he is capable of making those stretch passes that had us taking advantage of the kings slow defenders in the first few games. Apparently in the 5-1 win over the Avs I did not watch, he scored a hat trick and an assist and showed bursts of speed he just did not have before his surgery.
My proposed lines PRAYING VLASIC IS A-OK for game 6
MAKE IT HAPPEN TMAC
May the force be with you Sharks!