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