Sharks spotlight: Antti Niemi

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Sharks spotlight: Antti Niemi

Editor's note: Over the next month, CSNCalifornia.com Sharks Insider Kevin Kurz and Postgame Live reporter Brodie Brazil will evaluate the 2011-12 performance of each player on the roster. One breakdown will occur every weekday in numerical order.

Sharks spotlight -- the series
Sharks spotlight: Antti NiemiAge: 28 GIn his second season with the Sharks, goalie Antti Niemi posted34-22-9 record with a 2.42 goals-against average and .915 save percentage in 68games. His six shutouts tied him for fifth in the league. In five playoffgames, Niemi was 1-4 with a 2.45 GAA and .914 SP.Kurz says: Niemi was never able to get on the kind ofroll he enjoyed in the second half of the 2010-11 season, despite starting thefinal 21 games. On several occasions, Niemi and coach Todd McLellan said thatthe more Niemi plays, the more comfortable he gets and the better he is butit just didnt happen this season. Although his numbers werent terrible, Niemiallowed far too many weak and deflating goals that cost the Sharks points downthe stretch. It carried over into the playoffs, when he was very good for longstretches, but still maddeningly inconsistent. Niemi also must shoulder some ofthe Sharks penalty kill failures, as its now been two seasons with Niemibetween the pipes that that unit has been poor.SLIDESHOW: Grading the Sharks
Brodie says: Therewas much concern over Niemis health heading into the season, as theremoval of a cyst kept him out near the end of training camp and through thefirst 3 games. However, all uncertaintywas put to rest, as the Finnish netminder returned healthy and stayed that wayfor the rest of the campaign.To see how Niemi correlated with the team this season, Ithink its beneficial to contrast his monthly GAA vs. win-loss record. October(2.65, 4-2-0), higher average but offense wins games. November(2.12, 5-2-1), definitely successful.December (2.37, 6-3-3), goodmonth for a higher workload. January (1.96, 7-3-1), goalie making adifference in the best stretch of the season.February (3.42, 3-5-1), worstmonth of the season defense clearly a challenge. March(2.20, 7-7-3), highest working month offense clearly a challenge. April(3.28, 2-0-0) small sample size, difficult to judge crazy games. April Playoffs (2.45, 1-4), PK didnt help average, and we all know Sharks hadtrouble scoring goals.In summary, you can see portions where the goaltender savedhis team. But on the contrary, with theexception of October when goals were plentiful, the team did not regularlymuster up enough tallies to save its goaltender. Its quite clear that February was Niemis(and the collective teams) worst month, when preventing goals was aproblem. However he personally reboundednicely in March during the teams busiest month: although thats when the teamhad challenges scoring their own goals.2012-13 expectationsKurz says: Niemi is one of a number of Sharks players thatwill have to improve if the team wants any chance of battling for the PacificDivision title. If he falters early next season, he could conceivably end upseeing less playing time if the coaching staff wants to give Thomas Greiss orAlex Stalock a more serious look at being the starter.In fact, the Sharks organizational goaltending depth couldlead to trying to move Niemi, who still has three years remaining on hiscontract. There would likely be some interested parties, too, as Niemi has alreadyproven he can lead a team to a Stanley Cup championship.Related: Niemis stats splits game logs
Brodie says: TheSharks ultimately have expectations of winning a Stanley Cup, which cannot bedone in this day and age without a red-hot goalie. The question you must then ultimately ask yourself:does Antti Niemi have the capability to perform at that seemingly unbelievablelevel? My feeling is, absolutely. He has done it before.Part of what could help Niemi, are the 5 but mostly 4skaters in front of him. Certainly thepenalty kill was San Joses Achilles heel during both the regular andpostseasons. And its not to say thatNiemi could have bailed his special teams out a few more times just thattheres also that expression of hanging someone out to dry.Im torn on how to manage time between San Joses goaliesnext year. On one hand, Id like Niemito get comfortable and conditioned, with all the high minutes he and thecoaching staff desire. On the flipside,the development of Thomas Greiss (and others) are very important, in terms oftheir value and contributions. The jobof a backup does entail coming in when the team needs you, but it cant beconsidered a recipe for success to go weeks, and even a month between starts,as Greiss did.Bottom line: Niemi is the guy, and he will be expected to dothe heavy lifting once again.Up next: Daniel Winnik

Sharks get some down time with a break in schedule

Sharks get some down time with a break in schedule

SAN JOSE – A weekend with no games on the NHL calendar is rare enough. A weekend without any games or practices, though? That’s virtually unheard of in the middle of the season.

But with nothing until Wednesday's home game, and after a stretch of 10 games in 18 days, Sharks coach Pete DeBoer chose to give the players and staff a full Saturday and Sunday off. DeBoer and assistant coach Johan Hedberg were seen quickly scurrying from SAP Center a few short minutes after the game ended, while defenseman Brent Burns had his massive camouflage backpack stuffed to capacity while conducing his postgame media availability.

“It’s packed and ready to go,” Burns said, without going into any detail as to what exactly was in the bag.

DeBoer explained his rationale behind the respite on Friday morning.

“The way [the schedule] laid out after the month we’ve just had – the injuries, the stuff we’ve dealt with – it just made sense. We’ve got another push until the Christmas break after this with a tough schedule. 

“With our travel and the World Cup and everything, it didn’t make sense to come down here and skate when we had a chance to actually recharge mentally and physically.”

Although the team was aware of the break for some time, there’s no question that the Sharks have earned it. As they wake up on Saturday morning (presumably after sleeping in), they find themselves with a three-point cushion in the Pacific Division with a 15-9-1 mark. San Jose has won six of its last seven, including triumphs over perennial contender Chicago, chief rival Los Angeles, and the top team in the Eastern Conference, Montreal.

Their two longest road trips of the season are also already behind them, including a five-game trip in October and a six-gamer in November.

Joe Pavelski is pleased with what he’s seen so far, despite the challenging circumstances.

“Guys have handled it well,” said the captain. “There hasn’t been a whole lot of rest time, and we’ve found a few different ways to win, especially on nights that it hasn’t been easy. The biggest thing is guys have shown up and played hard. We’ve got a pretty good structure in here, guys are responsible, we’ve found a few goals, and [Martin Jones] gives us a chance every night.”

Joe Thornton said: “It’s been a lot of hockey. It will be nice to get a couple days after this to relax and recover a little bit.”

The schedule will ramp up again in short order. After three games in four nights next week, the Sharks will fly to Toronto and open up a four-games-in-six-days road trip with the Maple Leafs on Dec. 13.

* * *

The Sharks reassigned forwards Kevin Labanc and Ryan Carpenter to the AHL Barracuda on Saturday morning. Carpenter was a healthy scratch on Friday as Tommy Wingels got back in the lineup. 

It’s likely that the move was made at least partially because the Sharks are up against the salary cap, and that one or both players could return by the time they host the Senators on Wednesday.

Three takeaways: Sharks see similarities between Jones, Price

Three takeaways: Sharks see similarities between Jones, Price

SAN JOSE – The Sharks continued their hot streak with a 2-1 win over the Canadiens in a classic goaltender’s duel Friday night. The three takeaways from the game…

1 – Price, Jones similarities

Martin Jones was the standout star with his 31 saves, but the Sharks had to beat Carey Price on the other end to reward their own goalie. Price entered the night as the NHL leader in save percentage (.947), and third in goals-against average (1.68) and is probably on his way to another Vezina Trophy at the end of the season.

That the game came down to a battle in net was no surprise, as a prescient Pete DeBoer said Friday morning “we have to be prepared to win 2-1.”

There was talk after the game that there are some similarities between the Sharks emerging goaltender and the Canadiens superstar. 

“Actually, we spoke to [Sharks assistant/goaltending coach] Johan Hedberg about that, and he does see a lot of similarities between the two of them,” assistant coach Steve Spott said. “Their mannerisms in the net – they're both very, very calm. Both very quick. And both hockey clubs believe in their goaltenders. It was a great duo on that ice tonight. I think for any fan to see those two goaltenders was pretty special tonight."

Brent Burns, who won the World Cup with Price in September, said: “Very similar. … [Jones is] unflappable. They’re both big, very calm and great positioning. Very similar.”

2 – Strong start

The Sharks knew they were getting the weekend off from practice after the game, with no chance of any late changes as DeBoer and Hedberg were seen quickly departing for getaway flights after the final horn (that’s why Spott handled the postgame media duties). 

At this point in DeBoer’s second season, there seems to be a real trust factor between the coaching staff and the veteran team that no one will start their mini-break early. The Sharks were flying in the first period, jumping all over the Canadiens and seizing a 2-0 lead that Jones helped preserve over the final two frames.

Spott said: “It was good to come out like that and establish that momentum. We know how fast Montreal is and how deep they are up front, and obviously we know Carey Price. It was a good start. We were able to hold onto that."

“Whether you get the days off, you want to play hard,” Joe Pavelski said. “You want to come out [quickly], especially at home, at the starts.” 

3 – Escaping injury

Injuries are always a concern with so many games in so few days, and there were a few scary moments for San Jose.

The Sharks lost Kevin Labanc for a stretch in the first period after the rookie went hard into the boards on a hit by Alexei Emelin, but he came back in the second after he apparently went through some concussion tests.

Spott said: “He took a good hit. He came back. He went in and had to obviously do some [head injury] protocol.”

David Schlemko’s situation looked much worse, as the defenseman limped off of the ice and up the tunnel in the second period with what looked like a right leg or ankle problem. He returned midway through the third, though.

“It didn't look good when we saw it on video, but thankfully I think we dodged a bullet there,” Spott said.