Alex Stalock’s sharp goaltending, infectious energy boost Blackhawks in return
Stalock saved 27 of 29 shots and led the Hawks to a win Friday in his first start since Nov. 1. But what the Hawks appreciate most about Stalock is that “even when he’s not perfect, he has a sense of humor about it,” coach Luke Richardson said.
The Blue Jackets mustered only seven shots on goal and one high-danger scoring chance in the first period Friday against the Blackhawks.
Hawks goaltender Alex Stalock, scraping off the rust in his first start since suffering a concussion Nov. 1, appreciated that.
“They didn’t have much in the first, to be honest, so that was good,” Stalock said. “[I was focusing] more on tracking the play, getting up to speed, feeling confident on angles and stuff like that.”
And the Hawks, in turn, appreciated Stalock.
“It’s nice to see him get in there after a long time off,” Patrick Kane said. “I know he was battling some things pretty hard, [so to] come back and get a win, he played great for us.”
The veteran goalie looked just as sharp — albeit his typical chaotic version of sharp — in his return as he did back in October. He ultimately saved 27 of 29 shots in the 5-2 win, including a number of important stops late in the second period and early in the third when the Jackets were threatening to rally.
His updated season stats — .917 save percentage and plus-5.4 goals saved above average — are remarkably good for this team, which isn’t exactly a haven for good stats. The Hawks are now 4-2-1 with him and 4-18-3 without him.
Small sample size is undoubtedly a factor, but given Stalock finished with .910 save percentages in two of his last three healthy seasons with the Wild, it’s plausible he could keep this up. The Hawks might give him a chance to run with the starter’s role over struggling Petr Mrazek after the Christmas break.
Stalock’s confidence and aptitude for handling and passing the puck helps the players in front of him, too. His forays out of the crease occasionally get him in trouble, but all things considered, he adapts the soccer concept of a “sweeper keeper” into hockey as well as anyone.
“We tell our [defensemen] to get back quick, but now we’ve got to tell our forwards to get back quick,” coach Luke Richardson said. “Because he’ll fire one up the middle, which bypasses a lot of teams’ aggressive forechecking. It keeps other teams on their toes, thinking, but it also keeps us on our toes.
“We have to make sure that we’re ready for it because he knows what he’s doing, but sometimes in the mask . . . you don’t hear him as well or get facial expressions or eye contact. So you have to make sure you’re ready and open. It’s a helpful tool to have in the ‘D’-zone.”
The biggest boost of all, though, comes from Stalock’s unique personality and infectious energy.
He was sincerely missed for over a month — as he dealt with setback after setback — before finally returning to practice Dec. 8. Since then, whether coincidentally or not, the whole roster has seemed significantly more boisterous.
“Even when he’s not perfect, he has a sense of humor about it,” Richardson said. “[He] brings a little comedy to the professional that he is because he works his butt off in practice every day. Every shot, he’s trying to stop it. If someone hoots and hollers that they got a good one, he gives a sarcastic [reply]: ‘Oh, yeah, that was really good. Do it in a game.’ ”
Captain Jonathan Toews, while grinning about some undisclosed memory of one of Stalock’s antics, seconded that opinion.
“He’s a big part of our locker room,” Toews said. “He hasn’t been here long, but he has made an impact in a lot of ways [with] his personality and his approach to the game. He’s having fun and playing with confidence, so that definitely rubbed off on the rest of the guys.”