Niemi, Wings' Howard have something in common

January 5, 2012, 4:59 pm
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Columbus (10-23-5) vs. Sharks (21-11-4) at 7 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet California.

ANAHEIM -- Its a question Sharks coach Todd McLellan has been getting a lot lately, in some way, shape or form, from both home and road media.

The gist of it is simple: how much time is too much for goaltender Antti Niemi?

In each of the last two days, McLellan has compared Niemi to a goaltender who is plenty familiar to the Sharks and their fans -- the Red Wings Jimmy Howard. Howard and Niemi play their best hockey when they are in the net over, and over, and over again according to McLellan.

I think a lot of goalies are like that. I think Jimmy Howard is like that with my experience with him. Its the same thing. They just get into a rhythm and feel good about themselves, McLellan said.

If you ask me this question in February on a nine-game road trip I might answer it a little bit differently, but right now I dont feel were overplaying Niemi one bit.

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A closer look at Howards stats reveals that hes played even more than Niemi in recent weeks. The Red Wings goalie has started 30 of the last 32 games, and his numbers are impressive. Howard leads the NHL with 24 wins, five more than anyone else headed into Wednesday night, and his 1.99 goals-against average is sixth in the league. His four shutouts are tied for second.

Howard has started 13 of the previous 14 games, and allowed less than two goals in eight of those. Hes 9-4 over that span.

Incidentally, Howards least effective game came in the past two months came against San Jose. On Nov. 17 at HP Pavilion, Howard was pulled after two periods when he allowed four goals on 21 shots in a 5-2 Sharks win over Detroit.

Niemi made his 13th straight start against Anaheim on Wednesday night, and has started 17 of the last 18 Sharks games, and in his last 21 starts Niemi is 13-5-3. Not including Wednesdays 3-1 win in Anaheim, in which Niemi made 26 saves, he had a 2.07 goals-against average and .926 save percentage in his last 20 games.

No word yet on which Sharks goalie will start against Columbus on Thursday.