Goalie situation unsettled for Sharks

Goalie situation unsettled for Sharks
October 6, 2011, 9:52 pm

Todd McLellan has replayed 2010-11 all he can; he has reviewed what happened and didnt, what he could have done and what he shouldnt have, and why the Sharks ultimately ended where they did, and how they got to here.

And he neither smiles nor frowns much, so it is correctly assumed that he is punched out on last year.

This year, though, he is fervently noncommittal. Even on his starting goaltender, who looks more and more like Thomas Greiss rather than Antti Niemi due to Niemi's still-cranky knee.

On paper, we ought to be better, the Sharks coach said as he leaned back in his chair mentally surveying the locker room directly ahead and separated by dry wall. Not on paper, well found out quick enough.

He likes this team a tick better than the one he left last training camp with. I think weve had a better camp. Weve worked a little harder, weve done things a little differently, and were deeper, he said. I think guys get it. I mean, you dont know until youve played some games, so Im not trying to assume too much, but were pretty much where we ought to be right now.

Well, not entirely. He already has a hole in goal, where Antero Niittymaki is still months away from playing, and Niemis knee (cyst, surgery) is still not behaving as a proper knee should, so although nothing has been announced, the increasingly heavy betting is for Greiss to start Saturdays season opener against Phoenix.

This does not suggest Niemis knee will still be balky a week from Friday in Anaheim, or Saturday at home against St. Louis. But it is a noteworthy development in a camp that has really only had three: Niemis knee, Martin Havlats vexing shoulder, which has not yet been cleared for full-contact fun, and Brett Burns, the upright freezer-sized defenseman whose principal duty has been to hear McLellan tell him not to worry about the expectations of a hungry world.

Ive told him he needs to do the simple things, that he doesnt need to be extraordinary, McLellan said. He doesnt have to make any impression with us except that he knows what he want him to do.

The rest of it has been standard camp whatnot, with only the occasional tweak to the routine, like using two rinks in practice so that resurfacing doesnt eat up 10 minutes of practice time. It seems moderately anal behavior, but McLellans focus is simply to break routine. He starts practices earlier, they go longer, and meetings are moved up and back almost at whim. Except with McLellan, whim is pretty much going to the odd ballgame in mid-summer. Once the job beckons, he is there for the duration.

It was a very quick summer, he said. Barely time to collect yourself. The draft, the trades, camp. It just sort of flew by. We wanted to be fully focused and ready as we could be so that we didnt have to do what we had to last year.

That is, to fritter away three months and change looking like the Ottawa Senators.

I cant really quantify how much that did or didnt hurt us, though you sort of know that it wasnt the way we wanted to do things, he said. It leaves too much to chance, and forced to do a lot of things we didnt want to do -- play the goaltender (Niemi) too many games in a row, play some guys too many minutes for too many games, things like that.

The whole idea is not to have to do that again, he said, leaning forward. I mean , look at the playoffs. The teams that built up the cushions and knew where they were going to be wended up in the Finals.

That wasnt San Jose. And this might not be San Jose, either. There is still the nagging sense that until they show they can start fast, they should be expected not to do so. Then again, they have started fast in other years, and still limped into the playoffs.

Well, there are things you can control, and things you cant, McLellan said. Theres paper, and theres not paper.

Paperwork is due Saturday morning. Not paper is way harder. And nothing reminds a fellow of the capricious nature of the no paper season quite like not having your goalie for the opener.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for Comcast SportsNet Bay Area.