Editor's Note: Catch 'Sharks Week' all this week on SportsNet Central at 6 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. through Friday, Oct. 7.
The conditional green light Todd McLellan gave to Antti Niemi as the Sharks goaltender Saturday night is essentially Niemi being declared ready to go against Phoenix.We know this because:(A) McLellan needs Niemi to be the guy until Antero Niittymaki healthies up and can become the loyal backup.(B) McLellan doesnt typically say, If he says hes ready, hell play for anyone not named Thornton. That is a prerogative he reserves for himself.(C) He knows that he has to take greater care about October, November and December than the employees did a year ago, and rushing Niemi at all is far too stupid for a man of his qualifications.
San Jose spent an extraordinary amount of energy just getting into the race last year after frittering away a good 15 weeks with sub-mediocre hockey. It may have contributed, at least in part, to the rash of injuries that whittled away at their skill in the postseason -- as proven by the otherwise unwarranted struggles they had with Los Angeles, the way they nearly blew a 3-0 lead against Detroit, and were outmanned as thoroughly as they were against Vancouver.Thus, McLellan isnt going to expose a 97.724 percent healthy Niemi to the workload he will have to take on while Niittymaki is up on blocks -- unless he has suddenly fallen in love with Thomas Greiss to such an extent that he doesnt much care whether Niemi or Greiss plays. This is beyond counterintuitive -- this is crazy.And McLellan doesnt do crazy. He does have a gift for always having a goatee with three days growth without ever giving evidence that he has ever shaved it off, but thats about as close to the wild side as he gets. If he says Niemi is ready if he says hes ready, he already knows that Niemi is ready and going to say so.And thats 97.724 percent certain.