Niemi still enjoying heavy workload

January 4, 2012, 12:30 am
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ANAHEIM There isnt any uncertainty that Sharks goalie Antti Niemi likes getting the bulk of the work in net. That was reaffirmed after Tuesdays practice in Anaheim, when Niemi was asked how many of the next 12 games in 21 days hed like to start.

Close to 12, Niemi said.

Hes already gotten the call for the last dozen games, and 16 of the previous 17. It sounds as if hell be making consecutive start number 13 on Wednesday when San Jose goes for its first win of the season in four tries against last place Anaheim.

Niemi made 27 saves on Monday in a 3-2 win over Vancouver, improving to 16-7-4 with a solid 2.34 goals-against average and .917 save percentage. A four-day break for the Sharks before that game allowed him to catch his breath.

I know Nemo played last night, but all three goalies are fresh, Todd McLellan said. As we get through to the All-Star break, well have to access the other goaltenders and well have a plan for that. Right now, with back-to-back games coming up, that could be our first opportunity, but nothings written in stone.

That sure sounds like a hint that either Thomas Greiss or Antero Niittymaki will get the call against Columbus on Thursday at HP Pavilion. Conventional wisdom would say that Greiss will be the next goalie to start that isnt named Antti Niemi, as hes continued to dress as the backup even after Niittymaki was medically cleared and rejoined the team in mid-December.

The game against Columbus would make perfect sense, as the Blue Jackets have been dead last in the NHL for virtually the entire season, and it will be the end of a three-games-in four-nights stretch for the Sharks.

Greiss hasnt played in exactly one month a 5-3 loss to Florida on December 3.

He admits that hes thought the busy schedule may allow him to get back into the crease, so is trying to stay as sharp as possible in practice.

I just go from game to game, try to practice and do my best, and when I get in Ill be ready, he said.

Since Niemi is a goalie that likes to play as much as possible, and seems to play his best hockey when the workload is heavy, it makes it a little more complicated for McLellan to pick his spots to pull him from the lineup.

It does, and we have to keep that in mind, said the coach. Once we get deeper into this logjam of games it will make it a little bit easier. But right now, hes fresh, and looking at you like hey, put me in, Im ready. Hes played fairly well, so there are a lot of things that are working in his favor right now.

Odds and ends: Logan Couture showed no ill effects from blocking a shot with his right knee in Monday night's game, skating the entire practice on Tuesday. Jim Vandermeer sure appears to be healthy, and didnt have any sort of protection on his injured hand in Tuesday's practice. In order for him to come off of injured reserve, though, the Sharks would have to clear a roster spot, and are probably in no rush to do so. Colin White is not with the team, still suffering from a lower body injury.

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