After largely being relegated to the bench during the San Jose Barracuda’s long road trip, goaltender Mantas Armalis now finds himself as the number one goaltender due to an injury to Troy Grosenick. Armalis said he was fighting a cold as well during the road trip but looks to be returning to health as the Barracuda need him to step in for his injured teammate.
Illness and Rest During Road Trip
“I was feeling a bit ill during this road trip we had and getting that break and [time to] reset was very welcome,” Armalis said after his first start since being pulled in a game against the Texas Stars. “Today I felt much better, and obviously, the performance showed that.”
The Barracuda leaned on the veteran Grosenick until his injury against the Bakersfield Condors on Tuesday night forced “Teal Steel” into the net. San Jose would go on to lose that game 3-1, but Armalis has now won his last two starts as he takes the reigns during Grosenick’s recovery.
What was going through my head? I have to stop this or else we’re kind of screwed.
“He played unbelievably. I think There were a couple of plays, some back door, point blank, breakaways saves where it could have changed the momentum and definitely changed the game. He stood on his head and kept us in the game. If it weren’t for him, it definitely would have been a different outcome,” said Colin Blackwell following a 4-1 win to split the home-and-home series against the Condors on Friday night. “I think Mantas has been solid. It’s just one of those things where one guy goes down, somebody has to step up.”
Adjustments Starting to Pay Off
Armalis was one of the three Swedish Hockey League players signed by the San Jose Sharks last spring. After a few years with Djurgarden, the move to the smaller ice surface presented challenges for the Lithuanian-born netminder. He has been making adjustments to his game to combat the increased activity around the net, the traffic and quick plays that are the hallmarks of the North American brand of hockey. Being more aggressive in the crease has been a noticeable change since he arrived.
“I think it’s something I have adopted a bit more coming over since the situations are much more open here in some ways. Whereas it’s so wide open in Europe, you always have to be ready for a pass.”
But already his play and positioning have looked better since his first games at Summer Rookie Showcase in Westminster, Colorado. Armalis said it’s coming around, and his play on the ice and the statistics are backing that up.
“It’s getting better. The positioning feels much better, and I trust myself more in that sense. Now it’s just all the pieces together.”
SO CLOSE! Kempe with a shot opportunity, but somehow Mantas Armalis comes up with the save. Barracuda leads, 3-1. pic.twitter.com/tgCSjGDaGk
— Ontario Reign (@ontarioreign) November 27, 2016
After his back-to-back wins over the Bakersfield Condors and Ontario Regin, Armalis’ season statistics are now a near mirror of Grosenick’s stats as well.
Nabokov Paved the Way, Now Shows It
Helping in that transition on and off the ice to put those pieces together has been San Jose Sharks goaltender development coach Evgeni Nabokov. Nabokov followed a similar career path as Armalis, coming over to North America as a young man, adjusting to new teammates, new ice dimensions and a new culture.
“He’s a great companion and coach to have in Nabby,” Armalis said about Nabokov. “He came over, just like me and had to do the same process and work that I do. It helps a lot.
Head coach Roy Sommer echoed the help Nabokov has provided for Armalis and thinks the AHL rookie, who has a 4-1-1 record, needs to continue to trust the San Jose Sharks winningest goaltender in their history.
“I think the biggest thing with [Armalis] is to listen to Nabby and not try to do too much or too much thinking. In practice, pucks go by him, but you get him in a game, and he seems to be a gamer. But that has to start transferring from practice into the games, and we’re starting to see that,” said Barracuda Head Coach Roy Sommer. “I think he has to be better in practice, but yeah he’s winning games. He has a winning record, and that’s all you can ask for.”
No Changes For Armalis Besides More Work
“I guess I like playing here. I had fun out there today,” Armalis said. “I felt I had a compete level and that was on top [of my game] and just went with it.”
To his credit, Armalis said he is prepared to play very game and despite Grosenick’s injury, very little will change for him.
“No, it doesn’t at all. The preparation is always to play. I don’t think it’s different at all.”
The Barracuda will need Armalis to keep having fun as they return to Texas to take on San Antonio Rampage in a weekend series December 3 and 4.