Ratto: Sharks, Niemi uncomfortable once again

April 24, 2011, 9:28 pm
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Ray RattoCSNBayArea.com

First things first. Antti Niemi is still the Sharks goaltender for Mondays Game 6 of the Western Conference quarterfinal against the Los Angeles Kings, no matter what the first nine minutes Saturday might have looked like.
In fact, its because of what the first nine minutes looked like that convinced head coach Todd McLellan that a change didnt need to be made there. He is more annoyed by and demanding more production from the six defensemen in front of Niemi, who gave pucks away and failed repeatedly to get rushes started by either giving up possession or cycling back into their own zone because they didnt want to fully engage the Kings forecheckers.He is our guy, McLellan said of Niemi, but this is also a matter of him not being the only one that didnt play to expectations. I dont think we did enough to help him.RELATED: McLellan says Niemi will start Game 6 for Sharks
Its not just him, defenseman Douglas Murray said in concurrence. Its us making mistakes. Its all of us, all six on the ice. (The Sharks being outscored 8-1 in the first period) is terrible. Its unforgivable. But its real easy to talk about, but much harder to get the job done.
In any event, even if Niemi is cured of his yips and the defensemen, starting and emphasizing Dan Boyle, who has struggled most in this series, the Sharks have still wasted a lot of time that could have been put to much better use both preparing for Detroit and not having to live with another round of Why have you no killer instinct?

In losing two games they really had no good reason to, the Sharks have made an easy job (beating a seven-seed without its best scorer) harder, and a hard job (getting through the next two rounds) even harder than that.And that, boys, girls and undecideds, is why they have infuriated you yet again by dragging themselves to a sixth game in this Western Conference quarterfinal series with the Los Angeles Kings. They have now managed to screw up badly, twice, in situations that demanded that they choose the easiest path.They lost Game 2 decisively when the Kings had neither Anze Kopitar or Jarret Stoll, and they lost convincingly and drably. Winning that game would have eliminated the need to win Game 5, again at home, with the Kings reeling and primed to fail. And while all that is going on, the Detroit Red Wings are resting at home, comfortably and happily, with plenty of time to heal wounds and stoke the anger that has resounded within them since losing to the Sharks in the second round last year.The Sharks, in short, needed to make this series an easy and decisive one if they were to take themselves as serious Stanley Cup contenders, and failed.Of course, they could win Monday and decide that maybe they still are. Thats just not the way to bet any more.Right now, the Wings are at full strength and with a full tank, waiting with joy while the Sharks expend as much energy as possible vanquishing an outmanned seven-seed. And the first rule of playoff hockey is, If you want to go deep, dont spend so much time thrashing about in the shallow end.Game 5 looks better for the Sharks than it actually was. They got 52 shots, 12 or so of which were great scoring chances, that Kings goalie Jonathan Quick and his defensemen handled almost impeccably.RATTO: Quick saves Kings, puts pressure on Sharks
But the fact is the Sharks eliminated themselves early with poor goaltending from Niemi and shoddy defensive work in front of him, and the Kings spent the rest of the night ceding ice and puck possession for the surety of guarding Quick from another meltdown a la Game 3. Having taken a 3-0 lead in the first minutes, they rope-a-doped the rest of the way because they had the wherewithal to do it. Under normal circumstances in which the Kings would actually have to engage the offensive process, the Sharks wouldnt have had the puck long enough to get 52 shots.Nevertheless, McLellan had less trouble with his forward play than the back seven (including Niemi). Not enough to change Niemi or the other six, but enough to make it an uncomfortable few days for them. And with the Sharks, it's always about not being comfortable.