Alex Stalock just kind of exudes that rather charming happy-to-be-here attitude.
The Wild’s backup goaltender has filled in admirably the past seven games and two periods for injured No. 1 Devan Dubnyk and has helped the team build up some momentum entering this second half of the season. But with Dubnyk slated to play in at least one of the back-to-back games with the Nashville Predators starting Friday night at Xcel Energy Center, Stalock is seeing his stretch come to an end.
But impressively, that isn’t a sore spot for sunny Stalock.
“It’s been fun, you know?” Stalock said. “I mean, I’ve never been able to go and play consecutive games in a row, I don’t think, in my career in the NHL. So that part was fun. I think just being able to go back in and feel good other than every two weeks. It’s tough when you jump in every two weeks. So, you know, it was a fun run to go in there and get games in a row. That’s the way I looked at it.”
In seven seasons in the NHL, the most games Stalock has amassed in a season was 24 in 2013-14 with the San Jose Sharks. The 30-year-old South St. Paul and Minnesota Duluth product has played in 16 games this season, his second with the Wild, including 14 starts. At 7-7-1, he has a 2.72 goals-against average and .915 save percentage with one shutout.
“He knows his job. He knows why he’s here,” coach Bruce Boudreau said of Stalock shifting back to backup. “He’s here to prove himself to stay in this league, and he’s proven himself. And he’s played a lot of games, but he’s always ready because he’s always working so hard on the ice.
“You know what? I always had a lot of confidence in him and confidence has never weighed in decisionmaking in playing Alex,” Boudreau said. “It’s just that sometimes your No. 1 guy needs to get 55 to 60 games in, and that was our goal. And right now, I mean, we’ve still got great confidence in Alex. And hopefully, [Dubnyk] when he comes back, he’s going to play great, and then we’ve got two good goalies that maybe we go to a little bit more.”
In Dubnyk’s 23 games this year, he is 12-8-2 with a 2.69 goals-against average, a .916 save percentage and three shutouts.
Dubnyk, who said he felt a “pop” in the first period of that Dec. 12 Calgary game that led to his lower-body injury, first skated again Dec. 21. And while he said there still is some pain, it’s manageable. Dubnyk said missing time like this was a first for him but having Stalock playing well made it easier.
“Oh, he was fantastic, and not that I would expect any different,” Dubnyk said. “I talked to him about that, like I said, first time I’ve had to go through something like this, and part of you feels a little bit guilty to not be in there and playing. But when you have a guy as your partner that you know is going to come in there and do a great job, it certainly helps that, and it helps the recovery process to know there’s a guy there that’s going to give the guys a chance to win.”
Stalock said having to quick change from practice tempo to game speed as a backup is tricky, and he’s enjoyed being able to establish a rhythm these past few weeks. But that doesn’t mean he’s not ready to relinquish the net to Dubnyk.
“Obviously, we need Dooby playing. He’s an elite goalie in this league, and we knew it was going to be tough with him out for two weeks or whatever it’s been,” Stalock said. “Whenever he comes back into the lineup, I think it’s a big lift for this room and a big lift for the team.”
So regardless of his relegation back to the bench, Stalock still will delight in his role. And he and Dubnyk — both big NFL fans and fantasy football players — still will maintain their tight bond.
“A lot of our stuff that we enjoy, hobbies, too, away from the ice is similar, and we both have kids similar ages, too, and it’s easy to get along and talk that stuff,” Stalock said. “It’s nice to be able to talk not just hockey all the time, and I think that’s one thing we enjoy, and it makes it light in the room.
“We obviously just want the best for each other for whoever’s in there, and at the end of the year, I think you’re going to see that that’s what’s going to give you the most success,” Stalock said. “So it’s good to have a partner like that.”