SAN JOSE -- The backup Sharks goalie who broke Evgeni Nabokov's record for the franchise's longest shutout streak can joke these days about the year of his career that he can never get back.
From February 2011 to January 2012, Alex Stalock was recovering from highly specialized surgery to reconnect and regenerate a nerve that was severed in his left leg after a nightmarish accident on the ice. Much of his rehab time was spent working with goalie development coach Corey Schwab to regain strength and improve skill level.
"I was just talking with Schwabby," Stalock said Tuesday. "The year we spent just not even seeing pucks, but working on movement? I joked with him and said maybe it's good for a goalie to take a year and actually work on some of the stuff he needs to work on to get to the next level."
All that effort has paid off for Stalock, 26, who was in the net for Monday night's 1-0 loss to the Los Angeles Kings after pitching shutouts in two previous starts. By blanking the Kings until late in the second period, Stalock earned himself a place in the record book as he extended his streak to 178:55 without allowing a goal -- 7:37 longer than Nabokov in January 2009.
Coach Todd McLellan said Stalock's teammates are well aware of what he has gone through to reach this point.
"I think that's why he fits our team so well," McLellan said. "Guys know his story, they understand where he's been, and they get excited about playing for him."
Over a three-day span in 2011, Stalock went from the elation of his first NHL win -- a relief effort against the Phoenix Coyotes on Feb. 1 -- to the trauma of a hospital room after Dwight King of the Manchester Monarchs stepped on the back of his leg during a scrum in front of the Worcester Sharks' net. Eventually, the operation was done at the renowned Mayo Clinic, not far from Stalock's family home in St. Paul, Minn.
"Probably for most guys, a career-ending injury," Joe Thornton said. "But some miracle happened, and he fought his way back."
Stalock's teammates are impressed by his competitive nature -- "There's no easy goals against him in practice, and I think that translates in the games," Thornton said -- as well as the amount of time he spends on the ice.
"He stays after practice for guys to shoot," Tommy Wingels said. "Second goalie, they'll say, you need to do that. But he's doing that and having fun with it. He's not doing it because he has to."
Wingels was on the ice in Worcester when Stalock was injured. Everyone knew something was wrong, but not how serious the problem was.
"You see those type of plays numerous times in a game -- a scrum around the net, a goalie lying down and bodies all around him," Wingels said. "I'm kind of surprised that doesn't happen more often."
Stalock said he didn't realize the extent of the injury until the next morning. At one point, he said he was told the odds were 50-50 he would ever play again, but he chose to be optimistic.
"Being young and having it be my first injury, I kind of played it that it's not going to be a big deal," Stalock said. "And I think that mindset was a big reason to get through it."
Stalock knows his role in his first season as the Sharks backup -- challenge players in practice, give starter Antti Niemi the occasional rest. McLellan isn't wavering on his commitment to Niemi, even though Stalock has the better goals-against average (1.58 vs. 2.37) and save percentage (.943 vs. .913).
But Stalock's starts have become more frequent lately as McLellan wants to give Niemi more rest because he is going with Team Finland to the Sochi Olympics. And that means each netminder is likely to get one start as the Sharks face the Edmonton Oilers on Wednesday and the Calgary Flames on Thursday.
Sharks (34-13-6) at Edmonton (17-32-6), 6:30 p.m. CSNCA