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  • 2019-20 Player Review: Alex Stalock stumbled upon the starting gig and ran with it


    In the 2019-20 Player Review series, we will evaluate the 2019-20 performances of each member of the Minnesota Wild during the regular season. Players were evaluated based on overall performance with regard to pre-season expectations and how that player performed in their particular role.

    This season was one to put in the rearview for the collective efforts of the men in the crease for the Minnesota Wild. Although the previous statement is both true and can be proven through advanced statistics, one thing the numbers don’t show is the fact that Alex Stalock had the best season of his career in the NHL.

    The St. Paul native went from career backup to starter this season. His 36 starts this season smashed his previous career high in starts, and when the Wild were outside of the playoffs looking in down the stretch, Stalock played his best hockey just when the team needed him to.

    Season in review

    Stalock’s season started with him as Devan Dubnyk’s backup, but he was eventually propelled into the starting role on a limited basis in late October when Dubnyk went out of the lineup due to injury. At the time of Dubnyk’s injury, the No. 1 net minder at the time was struggling to start the year, posting only two wins in seven starts while having a 3.92 goals-against average and .880 save percentage.

    This season, Stalock played in 38 games, started 36, going 20-11-4, with a 2.61 goals against average and .910 save percentage. Many of the statistics he posted were career highs. For a guy that was supposed to just be a backup goaltender, riding the pine behind Dubnyk’s typical 60-plus game season slate, he sure surprised many by his play in goal this season.

    Although personally it seemed to be a good season for Stalock, his underlying advanced statistics in net were far lower than one would suspect for a netminder that found ways to win games, especially while having a defensive core of Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Matt Dumba, and Jonas Brodin as the top four blueliners playing in front of him. According to Corsica Hockey, Stalock ranked 48th out of 67 goaltenders to play in the NHL this season with a rating of 65.65. To put that in perspective, Stalock ranked below Buffalo’s Carter Hutton, the Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist, and the Kings’ Jonathan Quick, but above goaltenders such as the Devils’ Cory Schneider, Capitals’ Braden Holtby, and Flames’ David Rittich.

    Of goalies that played 30 or more games this season, Stalock’s -0.563 save percentage above expected ranked 35th out of 45 goaltenders. This means the average NHL goaltender would have hypothetically made more stops and allowed fewer goals against. The number might not seem all that important, but his poor save percentage above expected, along with Dubnyk’s league-worst -1.348, combined for a multiple points lost in the standings. If the Wild would have had even average goaltending, the team might have competed for the third spot in the Central Division.

    The last couple of months of the regular season was when Stalock shined. In the final 16 games of the season, Stalock played his best hockey to date in a Minnesota Wild uniform. During that stretch, the former University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldog went 11-4-0, with three shutouts and allowing less than two goals in 10 of those contests.

    That stretch flipped the perspective from bad season to good season for Alex Stalock between the pipes. By elevating his game when the team most needed it, the Wild net minder earned himself a special league honor that was announced early last month. He was selected as the Wild’s nomination for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, which is awarded to the National Hockey League player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey.

    Standout moment

    One of the most notable traits to Alex Stalock’s game is his play with the puck. So, naturally his standout moment this season was a 100-foot pass from his goal line to send Mats Zuccarello in on a breakaway. Of course, Zuccarello made Stalock’s feed pay off. This was absolute gold, and how could it not be the standout moment in his season? It cannot get much prettier than this.

    Looking ahead

    It’s been widely known that the Wild will enter the “training camp” so to speak before the play-in round against the Vancouver Canucks with the intention of starting whomever plays the best in the practices leading up to the games. Stalock seems to be the favorite to win the starting gig for first game against Vancouver, with Dubnyk having the next best odds, followed by AHL goaltender of the year Kaapo Kahkonen. But it’s anyone’s starting job for the taking.

    In a recent interview with The Athletic, general manager Bill Guerin reiterated a statement he has made a couple of times during the break about a three-headed competition for the crease between Stalock, Dubnyk, and Kahkonen.

    “The best goalie is going to play. And we don’t have time to work out the kinks or do this or do that,” said Guerin. “This is gonna be quick. And these games are going to come fast. And if we’re not prepared or not on top of things, before you know it, we’ll be done. So, we are going to play the best players, the players that give us a chance to win.”

    It seems to be Stalock’s net to lose. If he steps in and plays well in camp, there should not be any doubt who will be starting in goal for the Minnesota Wild in Game 1 of the play-in series against the Canucks.

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