Is Antti Niemi overworked in net?

619872.jpg

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.

Sharks' Vlasic joins Canada for World Championships

Sharks' Vlasic joins Canada for World Championships

Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic will compete in the upcoming IIHF World Championships for Team Canada, it was announced on Friday.

The tournament runs from May 5-21 in Paris, France and Cologne, Germany. 

Vlasic, 30, a native of Montreal, has played in the tournament twice before in 2009 and 2012. He also represented Canada in the 2014 Olympic Games, helping it to a gold medal, and the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, which Canada also captured.

In 75 games with the Sharks this season, Vlasic posted 28 points (6g, 22a) and a +4 rating. He was second on the team in shorthanded time on ice (2:04 per game) and blocked shots (146).

A pending restricted free agent in 2018, Sharks general manager Doug Wilson called getting Vlasic signed to a long-term deal an offseason priority for the club. The two sides can begin negotiations on July 1.

“Vlasic [is] arguably one of the best defensemen in the league,” Wilson said. “[He] is still one of the most underrated players in the league in the outside world.”

The Sharks lost in the first round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs to Edmonton, although Vlasic and partner Justin Braun helped to keep Connor McDavid in check at even strength. The league's leading scorer had just one even strength point in the six-game series, an empty net goal with less than one second left in Game 6.

Boedker tops list of disappointing Sharks depth forwards

Boedker tops list of disappointing Sharks depth forwards

SAN JOSE – The Sharks didn’t make any blockbuster moves last summer, content to make another run in 2016-17 with largely the same group that came within two wins of capturing the Stanley Cup.

They still acquired a notable player, though, when Mikkel Boedker was signed on July 1 to add an element that the Sharks knew they needed more of moving forward – speed. Boedker was expected to make the team faster, after the Sharks were exposed for not having enough of that against Pittsburgh in the NHL’s final round, as well as play in a top six role. 

At the time, it was hailed as a slick, under-the-radar move that wasn’t going to change the dynamic of the club but could help push it over the top.

When Boedker was a healthy scratch in games three and four of the first round against Edmonton, the evidence became clear, though, that this was a decision that fell flat on its face. 

Frankly, Boedker – who is signed for three more years with a $4 million salary cap hit – brings back visions of Sharks bust Marty Havlat. You know the skill is there, but the desire to use it on a nightly basis while showing any semblance of a battle level is lacking. 

Should the Sharks give Boedker another chance next season, or should they do everything in their power to try and move him? That’s a question that will likely be debated in the front office over the next several weeks.

On get-away day on Monday, indications were that the Sharks were planning on sticking with the 27-year-old, who finished with 26 points in the regular season (10g, 16a) and added one goal and one assist in four games in the playoffs.

“He has the things we’re looking for: his career scoring average, his speed, [penalty killing] ability,” general manager Doug Wilson said. “Did he meet the expectations that he had for himself [or] that we had for him? No. Can we get that out of him? Pete [DeBoer] believes we can.”

DeBoer has known Boedker since he played for him in 2007-08 in Kitchener (OHL). Despite scratching him in the playoffs, DeBoer said he saw “huge improvement” in Boedker throughout the course of the season after the forward spent nearly all of his NHL career in Arizona.

“There was an adjustment. He’s played 6-7 years a certain way in the NHL,” DeBoer said. “We’ve asked him to play differently here, and there was an adjustment.”

Boedker still believes that he can be a fit in San Jose.

“I think it will be and it can be,” he said. “It’s learning period, but you’ve also got to look in the mirror yourself and see what you can change and what assets you need to bring. I’ve learned a lot, and I’m ready to do that.”

The list of Sharks depth forwads that had frustrating seasons hardly begins and ends with Boedker, though.

Veteran Joel Ward’s production dipped from 43 points last season to 29 in 2016-17, although that probably isn’t too surprising considering he’s 36. Tomas Hertl is proving to be a streaky player, too, although his season was interrupted by another a knee injury.

The bigger disappointment came from players like Chris Tierney and Joonas Donskoi, who both made big impressions in the 2016 playoffs but struggled to produce consistent offense this year. Both were mentioned by name by DeBoer on Monday.

There are some promising youngsters in the pipeline like Timo Meier, Kevin Labanc and Marcus Sorensen, but it’s still too early to project any of them as can’t-miss scorers at the NHL level.

“I think we’ve got a large group of guys that I like, but need to step up,” DeBoer said. “Is Sorensen [like] Donskoi next year, where he takes a step back, or [does he take a] step forward? We’ve got a lot of guys that there’s a lot of potential there – Chris Tierney. 

“There’s a lot of those guys, but they need to have big summers and take a step, and show that they’re not just one season or one month players.”