Niemi, Sharks shut out Blackhawks for 1-0 win


Niemi, Sharks shut out Blackhawks for 1-0 win

SAN JOSE Sharks' goalie Antti Niemi had beaten his former team before. But never like this.

Niemi posted his first shutout of the season -- and first in his career against Chicago -- by making 34 saves in a 1-0 Sharks victory over the Blackhawks at HP Pavilion on Wednesday night. Jason Demers scored the only goal on a power play in the second period.

Niemi admitted earlier in the week that its still special for him to play against Chicago, which he helped to win a Stanley Cup in 2010, but which he also walked away from after a salary arbitration ruling that summer - making him a free agent.

That means its an even better feeling to get the win, right?

Yeah, for sure, a little bit, said Niemi, who was 3-1 against Chicago last season. I think as time goes by its less and less, but a little bit, yeah.

It might not be a coincidence, either. Niemi knows some of the Blackhawks top scorers well, having practiced against them during his two years in the organization.

I maybe recognize whos coming, so maybe I think whos shooting or whos not, he said. I think some of those I was expecting the shot, and it came, he said.

Niemi has allowed two or fewer goals in his last five starts all wins.

Hes the reason we got two points tonight. He played great, and for whatever reason he just likes playing against his old team, said Joe Thornton. Thank goodness for that.

Niemis effort was the biggest reason the game was still scoreless late in the second period when Chicagos Dave Bolland was whistled for hooking at 17:04. Just four seconds after their power play began, the Sharks scored when Demers shot of a rolling puck deflected off of Jonathan Toews stick and past goaltender Corey Crawford.

Logan Couture took the offensive zone faceoff, but it was Ryane Clowe who out-muscled Patrick Sharp in the circle to get the puck back to Demers at the point.

Its an area we talk about a lot, especially against good faceoff teams. You need the winger help, said Clowe. I tried to almost cheat a little bit and get a little bit of a jump. We stress that a lot.

Demers, who has been in and out of the lineup and played in just his 10th game, said the goal was a big weight off of his shoulders.

For sure, its a monkey off my back. Theres no hiding its been a tough start to the year, he said. But, Im working on the things I need to work on and its paying off slowly.

The Sharks rotated their entire third defense pair for the third straight game. Demers and Jim Vandermeer, who also played last Saturday in Dallas, got the call on Wednesday against the Blackhawks. It was Colin White and Justin Braun, though, who suited up for the win in Colorado on Sunday.

McLellan liked what he saw out of Demers and Vandermeer against Chicago.

I thought Demers and Vandermeer played maybe their best games of the year, he said. Its nice to see when a couple of them havent played a lot.

The Sharks struggled with an aggressive forecheck from Chicago for much of the first two periods. The Blackhawks were trying to end a two-game losing streak, which included a 9-2 throttling in Edmonton on Saturday.

Niemi held the Sharks in it, but was also fortunate that a couple of prime opportunities missed the mark.

Chicagos first great chance came early when Brent Burns fell down, leading to a Marian Hossa breakaway. Hossa fired high about seven minutes after the opening faceoff. Midway through the first, Niemi made a quick pad save on a shot by Toews on a Blackhawks power play.

Niemi continued to frustrate the Blackhawks in the second. During one furious sequence on another Chicago power play, Niemi quickly went right to left and stopped a one-timer by Marcus Kruger after some fancy passing by the Blackhawks. The rebound bounced right back to Kruger, who backhanded a pass to Bolland in the high slot, but Bollands shot missed the open net.

The Sharks woke up in time for the third, taking some pressure off of their goaltender. Still, Niemi made a good glove save of a slap shot by Duncan Keith, and with less than four minutes left, stuffed Toews at the side of the net with his stick along the ice and the puck trickled harmlessly through the crease.

A couple of his saves were spectacular, said Thornton.

The Sharks managed to increase their winning streak to four games on a night where some of their key players werent as energized as usual - including the captain.

Thornton said, It kind of felt like we didnt have our legs until the third period.

Clowe agreed.

Im not going to lie, I didnt feel the best. Looking around, you look for other guys to see if they have jump, and it just felt like one of those games where guys were skating uphill.

In the end, though, it didnt matter, as Niemi lowered his goals-against average to 2.31 and upped his save percentage to .923 in winning his ninth game.

Were glad to have him on this side, said Thornton.

Odds and ends: The Sharks were 4-for-4 on the penalty kill and 1-for-4 with the power play. Niemis 34 saves are the most hes had among his 14 career shutouts. Demers has seven points (3g, 4a) in eight games against Chicago in his career. The Sharks are 7-0 when scoring the first goal of the game.

Notes: DeMelo will play for Sharks soon; Couture battling illness

Notes: DeMelo will play for Sharks soon; Couture battling illness

SAN JOSE – Dylan DeMelo may finally be coming to a San Jose Sharks game near you.

The 23-year-old defenseman, who has yet to play in any of the first six games, will likely make his season debut shortly, coach Pete DeBoer indicated on Monday.

“That’s something we discuss every day,” DeBoer said. “We like him, we’re very comfortable with him. We’d have no problem putting him in. I know Bob [Boughner] has no problem playing him, and not worrying about playing him against anybody out there. It’s a nice luxury to have. 

“We can get to the point where it’s too many games where he’s sitting out. We’re getting close to that. We’re going to have to get him in soon here.”

DeMelo has not played for the Sharks since the final game of the 2015-16 regular season on April 9. He served as the seventh defenseman in the playoffs, but the Sharks dressed the same six blueliners throughout their run to the Stanley Cup Final.

In the preseason, DeMelo – who would have to clear waivers in order to be reassigned to the Barracuda – beat out Mirco Mueller for the seventh job on the Sharks. He signed a two-year contract extension in the offseason.

A former sixth round pick of the club in 2011, DeMelo had a breakthrough season in 2015-16, playing in 45 games and establishing himself as an NHL defenseman. He finished the season with two goals and two assists for four points and an even rating.

* * *

While the Sharks shook up their forward lines at Monday’s skate, the top power play unit remained the same. Brent Burns, Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau are still together and will try to work out the kinks to their game.

The Sharks are 3-for-20 on the power play, with just one of those coming on a five-on-four.

“We’re not shooting the puck enough, that’s the big thing,” Couture said. “We’ve got to shoot the puck, get traffic. We always have a guy in front of the net and we’ve been getting away from that.”

* * *

Couture has managed five points (2g, 3a) through the first six games, all while battling a persistent cold that he just can’t shake. It’s obvious he’s dealing with some sort of sinus issue when hearing him speak the past few days.

“It’s like a month, it won’t go away,” Couture said. “It’s crazy.”

* * *

Breaking with standard practice, the Sharks opted to stay in Detroit the night after Saturday’s game, rather than immediately flying home on the team charter.

The Sharks were a miserable 1-8-1 in their first home game after a multiple-game road trip last regular season, with their lone win coming against Edmonton in a shootout, so DeBoer figured he would try something different this year.

“When we sat down in the summer and looked at areas to improve, our record coming back from road trips was not good last year,” he said. “We looked at opponents when we came back, our travel schedule. We’re just looking for answers to fix some of the areas that maybe we weren’t real good at last year.”

Sharks shuffle up their lines ahead of homestand

Sharks shuffle up their lines ahead of homestand

SAN JOSE – When the Sharks signed free agent forward Mikkel Boedker in the summer, head coach Pete DeBoer immediately pictured him on a line with Logan Couture and Joonas Donskoi, saying a couple weeks ago that it looked good when he wrote it down “on a napkin.”

DeBoer apparently went through a few more napkins on the flight home from Detroit on Sunday, a 3-0 shutout loss to the Red Wings on Saturday surely on his mind.

The Sharks resumed practice on Monday with four entirely new lines, including Boedker up with the Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski. Couture centered Donskoi and Joel Ward, while Tomas Hertl was in the middle of the third line with Patrick Marleau and Matt Nieto. Chris Tierney skated as fourth line center with the remaining wingers.

“It’s not a panic situation or anything, I think you’re always looking for ways to get the most out of your group,” DeBoer said. “Our four-line game hasn’t been where I want it to be.”

Getting more out of Boedker is apparently part of the motivation for shuffling things up, as the newcomer has just four shots on goal through six games, with one point (a goal against Columbus on Oct. 15).

Playing with Thornton and Pavelski could help in that regard, just as it helped players such as Hertl last season.

“He’s got to shoot the puck more…and he knows that,” DeBoer said of Boedker. “I’m not concerned about him, but the nice thing about playing with those two guys is they push you to go to the areas where you have to score. Hopefully that gets him going.”

Boedker said: “It’s two of the best [players] in the league, so it’s going to be a lot of fun. Just got to listen and do the things they expect me to do, and make sure that I do them to the highest level.”

The line changes spreads out the Sharks’ speed a little more evenly among their scoring lines. They looked slow in losses to Detroit and the Rangers, especially.

“[Boedker] can bring some things to that line that Tomas maybe doesn’t,” DeBoer said. “Tomas has a great skill set, but this guy can back people off with his speed.”

Hertl will skate at center for the first time since early last January, although he saw plenty of time there in training camp when Thornton and Couture were competing in the World Cup. Last season, he had 15 points (4g, 11a) in 37 games before moving to the Thornton line full time on Jan. 9, where he took off.

The 22-year-old has three points (2g, 1a) in six games this season as a left wing.

“I think Hertl can play anywhere,” DeBoer said. “His game is at that point in his career and he’s a good enough player now that not only can he play anywhere, but I think he can make other people better around him.”

While the line changes will give the Sharks a new look on paper, Couture believes the bigger issue with the team – going back to the third period of Thursday’s 3-2 loss in Pittsburgh – is its compete level. 

“It’s compete and battle and playing the right way that we need to worry about,” he said. “We didn’t play well in Detroit, there’s no way around that. … We just didn’t compete, [and] that’s a frustrating thing, but it’s an easy thing to fix.”

The head coach echoed Couture’s estimation.

DeBoer said: “We have to realize how desperate a team we were last year every night, and the teams that we’re playing are out to hunt us based on our success last year. If we don’t have that desperation level, it’s going to be tough to win.”

The Sharks open a three-game homestand on Tuesday against Anaheim, and host the Blue Jackets and Predators later this week.