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.
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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.