Is Antti Niemi overworked in net?


Is Antti Niemi overworked in net?

SAN JOSE Antti Niemi doesnt seem to mind all the playing time hes been getting lately.

The Sharks goaltender made his 12th start in the last 13 games against Tampa Bay on Wednesday night, stopping 22 shots in a 7-2 win. His steady play has allowed the Sharks to gain points in five straight games (3-0-2) as theyve made their way back to the top of the Pacific Division.

It becomes more routine, and you stay focused from game to game, with just one or two days between, he said on Tuesday. Then, you dont have to think about games too much.

But, how much work it too much work for Niemi?

RELATED: Antti Niemi 2011 game logs

The Sharks goaltender started 34 games down the stretch last season from Jan. 15 April 4, going 25-4-4 with a 2.05 goals-against average and .929 save percentage in the process. Clearly, he can thrive when getting the bulk of the time, as those numbers dictate.

But Todd McLellan admitted on Tuesday that Niemi may have been a bit tired on the Sharks run to the Western Conference Finals last spring, in which they had to survive a six-game series in the first round and a seven-game battle in the second before bowing out to Vancouver.

I know we overworked Antti last year down the stretch, said McLellan. I believe that he was tired. I dont believe hes anywhere near that right now. In fact, I think this is good for him. This is what he needs and this is when he excels.

Again, the numbers back up McLellans claim. In his last 16 starts, Niemi is 10-4-2 with a 2.05 goals-against average and .927 save percentage with one shutout.

RELATED: 2011 NHL stats leaders

That doesnt mean Niemi doesnt get tired sometimes, though. In fact, he was feeling it a bit when the Sharks recently started him in all three games of last weekends road trip, which included back-to-back games in St Louis and Chicago and ended in the high altitude of Colorado.

I think my body could feel it during that stretch where there were more games than before for awhile, especially the back-to-backs, he said. St. Louis, then Chicago, and then Colorado where the air is a little different. It took awhile to get back from the back-to-back games, so I could notice something, for sure.

The day off last Sunday, followed by two more days without games gave Niemi plenty of time to rest up, though. That down time is just as important as his playing time, he said.

I think the main thing is how we handle things on the ice and off the ice, because its such a long year. So, what do we do on our time off or days off? Just balancing everything is the key, he said.

McLellan plans on getting his other goaltenders involved more, whether thats Thomas Greiss, Antero Niittymaki or both, after the turn of the new year.

Looking at our schedule, the January-February-March portion of it, well need two and perhaps the three goaltenders that we have to get through that stint of road games, and playing 17 in March alone, he said.

Right now, Nemo is fine. Hes our guy and were going with him.

Niittymaki update: The Sharks will have a decision to make shortly when Antero Niittymakis two-week conditioning stint comes to an end this weekend. For now, expect them to carry three goaltenders along with current backup Thomas Greiss.

Doug Wilson addressed the situation before Wednesdays game.

Its a good problem to have, he said. Much like having eight defensemen, you can go from eight defensemen down to five pretty quickly, and you can go from three goalies down to one pretty quickly. Were pleased with Niittymakis progress and injured goalie prospect Alex Stalocks progress, too.

Niittymaki made his third start for Worcester last night in a 6-3 loss. In three games, he's 1-2 with a 3.38 goals-against average and .878 save percentage.

Five months after taking puck to face, Sharks' Logan Couture 'still pretty sore'


Five months after taking puck to face, Sharks' Logan Couture 'still pretty sore'

Nearly five months after taking a puck to the mouth that resulted in major damage, Logan Couture is still dealing with the aftereffects of his surgically repaired mouth, which now features several false teeth.

Appearing on the NHL Network this week, Couture was asked how he’s feeling with less than one month to go before the Sharks open training camp on Sep. 14.

“There’s good days and bad days,” Couture said. “My bottom teeth are still my real teeth. They’ve tried to keep them so I don’t lose them. I don’t know if I’ll be able to, they’re still pretty sore. My top teeth are all fake now – my front six, I think. So, it’s different. It just feels different in my mouth. 

“But everything else with my face and all that is healed. I’m lucky that it’s an injury that didn’t affect my training, and hopefully won’t affect me going forward.”

Couture was injured on March 25 in Nashville. He was set up just outside the crease in the offensive zone when a Brent Burns point shot hit a stick before squarely battering the now 28-year-old’s mouth.

After missing the final seven games of the regular season, Couture returned for the Sharks’ playoff opener. He managed to play in all six games of the first round loss, posting two goals and one assist for three points, although he struggled at times and was seemingly targeted by the Oilers.

Couture is currently in his hometown of London, Ontario where he’s staging a casino event for brain research. Fellow Sharks Chris Tierney and Dylan DeMelo will take part, as will other NHL stars like the Kings’ Drew Doughty.

Analysis: Sharks will need results from recent draft classes


Analysis: Sharks will need results from recent draft classes

It was late in the lockout-shortened 2013 season when Sharks general manager Doug Wilson really started to prepare for the future. Douglas Murray was dealt to Pittsburgh for a pair of second round selections. Ryane Clowe packed his bags for Broadway, in exchange for a second and a third round pick from the Rangers. Michal Handzus went to Chicago for a fourth rounder.

Wilson’s logic was sound, as it typically takes two-to-four years before draft picks have a chance to make an impact at the NHL level. The general manager figured that by then, players like Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau either wouldn’t be a part of the team anymore or would be slowing down. Restocking the cupboards was essential.

From 2013-15, the Sharks made 24 selections over the next three NHL entry drafts, including seven total picks in the top two rounds. Some players have shown promise. Others haven’t. A few aren’t in the organization anymore. That’s the nature of the business.

The way the 2017-18 opening night roster is shaping up, though, now is the time that some of these young players in the system simply have to step up. Marleau and his 27 goals last season are gone, Thornton’s numbers are down and he’s coming off of major knee surgery, Joe Pavelski is now 33 years old, and the team’s offense depth is suspect at best. There have been no notable additions in the offseason.

Frankly, this season could be viewed as a referendum on the team’s amateur scouting staff, including longtime director Tim Burke. Wilson handed Burke and his staff a wonderful opportunity to provide the organization with fresh talent with the team approaching an organizational crossroads.

What has transpired so far is a bit concerning, as already two of the team’s first round picks from that span ended up being nothing more than trade bait.

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Mirco Mueller, chosen 18th overall in 2013, was a huge disappointment in San Jose. It’s been well documented that he was mishandled by the organization when he was rushed to the league in 2014-15, but even this past season, regular observers of the Barracuda had Mueller as nothing more than the AHL team’s fourth-best defenseman. He’s now in New Jersey, swapped for a pair of draft picks.

The scouting staff was so high on Mueller on draft day that Wilson traded a valuable second round pick to Detroit to move up just two places to select him. With those acquired picks, the Red Wings took Anthony Mantha 20th overall and Tyler Bertuzzi 58th overall – two forwards that have shown a whole lot more NHL potential than Mueller (especially Mantha, who has 39 points in 70 career NHL games so far).

Perhaps more concerning, though, is that the Sharks 2013 draft class as a whole is looking like a dud. Second round pick Gabryel Boudreau suffered a wrist injury and is no longer in the organization anymore, but he was trending downward even before he got hurt. None of the remaining players selected from rounds four-through-seven look to be NHL quality, either.

The next year brought Nikolay Goldobin, chosen 27th overall after the Sharks traded down in the first round, and he ended up being the key piece in the Jannik Hansen acquisition from Vancouver. Goldobin showed some flashes of offensive talent during his time in the organization, but his lack of hockey sense and on-ice work ethic helped lead to his exit. Whether Goldobin becomes an NHL regular, even with a fresh start in Vancouver, is highly uncertain.

Had the Sharks stayed at 20th overall, they could have selected Nick Schmaltz (20th overall), Robby Fabbri (21st overall), or David Pastrnak (25th overall). Instead, they moved down and took Goldobin, making it back-to-back first round failures.

* * *

Still, unlike 2013, other players from Goldobin’s draft class have shown some promise. Second rounder Julius Bergman was a steady blueliner for a good Barracuda team last season, and although he’s probably not NHL-ready yet, he could be on the right track. Late in the draft the team found Kevin Labanc in the sixth round with the 171st overall selection, and Labanc had some nice moments with the Sharks last season. His shot and his hands make him a solid prospect, although Labanc still probably has to get a bit bigger and stronger to play in the NHL full-time.

Noah Rod (second round, 53rd overall) and Rourke Chartier (fifth round, 149th overall) are also still developing, with Rod playing against men in the Swiss league the past few seasons and Chartier a valuable player for the Barracuda last year.

In 2015, the draft provided the Sharks with Timo Meier at ninth overall, as the club drafted in the top 10 for the first time since 2007. At this point, Meier is far and away the best prospect in the organization, and he’ll likely be relied upon to play a top nine (or even a top six) role for the Sharks this season.

The 2015 draft brought other decent prospects, too. Defenseman Jeremy Roy was selected 31st overall, and after suffering a serious knee injury in juniors this year, he’ll get a chance to play for the Barracuda this year. Fourth rounder Adam Helewka and fifth rounder Rudolfs Balcers have also developed nicely since draft day. It’s still a bit too early to evaluate that draft as a whole.

It should also be mentioned that while their draft day record may be suspect the past few seasons, the Sharks have brought in European free agents like Melker Karlsson, Joonas Donskoi and Marcus Sorensen. Karlsson has developed into a versatile, hard-working forward; Donskoi has shown flashes of offensive brilliance despite a disappointing second year in the NHL last season; and Sorensen looks primed to make the opening night roster after his speed and tenacity shined through during the Sharks’ first round series loss to Edmonton.

The Sharks scouting staff has helped to keep the team competitive for a long time, and they’re as big a reason as any that the team has missed the playoffs just once in the past 11 seasons. But this is also a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately business, and now is the time that the Sharks need to see some results from players that were chosen by Burke and company.