Greiss seizes his opportunity

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Greiss seizes his opportunity

SAN JOSE Even before opening night, it was easy to predict that the Sharks would have a decision to make with their goaltending in late December.

How difficult that decision would be depended solely on Thomas Greiss.

Antti Niemi was the undisputed starter and Greiss would be his backup, while Antero Niittymaki recovered from hip surgery that was to sideline him for the first three months. If Greiss faltered while Niittymaki recovered, he would probably be subjected to waivers and the American Hockey League while the club welcomed back the veteran Niittymaki.

That didnt happen. Greiss established himself as a reliable NHL backup to Niemi, never surrendering his position even when Niittymaki was declared healthy, and it was Niittymaki who was put on the trading block before being exiled to Worcester just after the All-Star break.

After practice on Friday at Sharks Ice, Greiss was asked if Niittymakis return to health was in the back of his mind while the early season progressed.

You try not to worry about it. Theres so much that can always happen, like injuries or whatever, he said.

And his response to Niittymaki being placed on waivers?

It wasnt really that big a reaction. I didnt even really worry about it. I come here every day and work, Greiss said.

Greiss could be playing down the perception that hes now firmly a part of the teams plans for the rest of this season and probably next, but he could very well be telling the truth, too. That laid back personality and friendly nature has endeared himself to his teammates, according to coach Todd McLellan.

Thats part of the reason that Greiss numbers (7-4-1, 1.98 goals-against average, .925 save percentage) are so impressive after all, a goaltenders statistics can often be a reflection of how well the team is performing in front of him.

The head coach used a football analogy (hey, it is Super Bowl week) to describe it.

Its maybe like the quarterback position, how important that offensive line is. They either play with the quarterback or they play for the quarterback. I think thats how it is with goaltending, too. You either play with the goaltender or you play for the goaltender.

Greisser has it set up on this team where guys play for him. I really believe that. Hes well liked, he works his butt off all the time, and when hes thrown in there they want to play well for him.

Its been quite the journey for the German native, drafted in the third round of the 2004 draft and who turned 26 on Jan. 29. He played four seasons in North America for San Jose and Worcester, before being transferred to the Swedish Elite League for 2010-11. He didnt like it there, and came back to the Sharks organization over the summer despite the club having two able-bodied, veteran netminders on its roster for the upcoming season.

Doug Wilson and his staff made it clear they wanted him back, though, and Greiss listened.

I think Thomas seized the opportunity when he chose to come back and sign here. He believed in what Doug and the management staff had told him when they sat down and said listen, you have an opportunity here and we want you back. Thats not an easy thing for him to do after he had been reassigned to Europe, McLellan said.

I think he was confident and he believed in what he was doing and we believed in him, and he came in and did it. It wasnt necessarily the three months of playing and that helped but I think the day he signed he was bound and determined that it was going to be his.

At the same time, the Sharks had to be a little wary to give Greiss the keys to the ship in such an important season, especially when Niemi had surgery in September, forcing Greiss to start the first three games of the regular season. Greiss had just 19 games of NHL experience under his belt at that point, with mixed results.

If there were any doubts then, though, Niittymakis assignment to Worcester is proof enough that Greiss now has the organizations complete confidence.

In fact, you could even make a case that he could challenge for the number one goaltender on a few NHL teams that are struggling in net if not right away, but in the near future. That, combined with his low salary cap hit through next season, could make him an attractive target for NHL teams as the trade deadline approaches.

Hed obviously love to be a number one at some point.

Clearly thats what I want to be, eventually. Well see what happens, he said.

For now, though, hell continue to bide his time and do his duty for a Stanley Cup contender.

McLellan said: Hes still a young NHL goaltender, not necessarily in years but in his experience here. That will take some time to grow, but he works on his game every day and gets good coaching from our goaltending staff.

Theres a chance for him to continue to grow.

Sharks trade Tommy Wingels to Senators

Sharks trade Tommy Wingels to Senators

Tommy Wingels has been traded to the Ottawa Senators for a pair of depth forwards and a seventh round draft pick in 2017, the Sharks announced on Tuesday.

Buddy Robinson and Zack Stortini, both right wings, will be assigned to the AHL Barracuda.

Robinson, 25, has 12 points (7g, 5a) in 33 AHL games with Binghamton. In seven career NHL games with Ottawa, the six-foot-six, 230-pound New Jersey native has one goal and one assist.

Stortini, 31, has three points (2g, 1a) in 22 games for Binghamton this season. The six-foot-two, 220-pound Ontario native has appeared in 257 career NHL games with Edmonton and Nashville, posting 41 points (14g, 27a) and 718 penalty minutes.

The move clears the way for the Sharks to activate injured forward Tomas Hertl, who is day-to-day with a right knee injury that required surgery in mid-November.

According to a source, there is a very good chance Hertl returns to the Sharks on Thursday against the Oilers.

San Jose will retain 30 percent of Wingels’ $2.475 million salary, according to the Senators, which comes out to $742,500.

Wingels, 28, posted 122 points (51g, 71a) and 197 penalty minutes in 337 career games with San Jose over parts of seven seasons. He was originally drafted by the Sharks in the sixth round of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft.

He is the second player that has essentially been pushed off of the Sharks’ roster as they incorporate younger players like Kevin Labanc and Timo Meier into the fold. Matt Nieto was waived in early January, and claimed by the Avalanche on Jan. 5.

"Tommy has been a valuable member of our franchise for many years, a phenomenal teammate and a true role model on and off the ice for our organization and the NHL," general manager Doug Wilson said in a statement. "As a team evolves and younger players push for roster spots, unfortunately tough decisions have to be made. We wish Tommy and his wife, Molly, nothing but success in the future.

"We also want to welcome Buddy and Zach to our organization. They add size and depth to our reserve list and we look forward to having them in San Jose.”

NHL Gameday: Streaking Sharks roll into Winnipeg, can reclaim first place

NHL Gameday: Streaking Sharks roll into Winnipeg, can reclaim first place

Programming note – Sharks-Jets coverage starts today at 4:30 p.m. with Sharks Pregame Live on CSN California

WHERE THEY STAND

Sharks: 30-16-2, 62 points, 2nd Pacific Division
Jets: 22-24-4, 48 points, 5th Central Division

PREGAME NEWS AND NOTES

***The Sharks won their fifth straight game on Monday in Colorado, 5-2, thanks to four goals from Patrick Marleau. San Jose is 7-2-0 overall in its last nine games, and can move back into first place in the Pacific Division ahead of idle Anaheim with a win tonight.

Winnipeg will also be playing the second of a back-to-back, after dropping a 3-2 decision to the Ducks at home on Monday. The Jets are 2-4-1 in their last seven, including a 5-2 loss to the Sharks at SAP Center on Jan. 16.

***Winnipeg should be getting impressive rookie Patrik Laine back for the game, according to local reports. He’s missed the last eight games with a concussion suffered on Jan. 7. The 18-year-old Calder Trophy candidate has 21 goals and 37 points in 42 games.

San Jose could be without Joonas Donskoi, after the winger was unable to finish the game against Colorado after taking a heavy hit from Andreas Martinsen in the first period.

***Brent Burns scored another goal last night, reaching 20 on the season. He’s the fastest defenseman to reach that mark since Kevin Hatcher in 1992-93. In his last 10 games, the Norris Trophy favorite has 15 points (5g, 10a).

KEEP AN EYE ON...

Sharks: Patrick Marleau. It was a historic night on Monday for the Sharks’ all-time leading scorer, as he became the first NHL player in nearly 20 years to score four goals in a single period. He struck for three in a row to start the final frame, upping the San Jose lead to 4-1, and capped it off with a late breakaway conversion. His 16 goals suddenly puts him in a tie with Joe Pavelski for second on the team.

Jets: Mark Scheifele. The 23-year-old center is Winnipeg’s leading scorer with 46 points (21g, 25a), and he brings a five-game point streak into tonight’s game (2g, 5a). He had a late goal against San Jose on Jan. 16 (thanks to Martin Jones’ ill-advised decision to try and shoot the puck into an open net), as well as an assist on an early score by Josh Morrissey.

PROBABLE LINES

Sharks
Melker Karlsson – Joe Thornton – Joe Pavelski
Patrick Marleau – Logan Couture – Mikkel Boedker
Kevin Labanc – Chris Tierney – Joel Ward
Timo Meier – Ryan Carpenter – TBD

Paul Martin – Brent Burns
Marc-Edouard Vlasic – Justin Braun
Brenden Dillon – David Schlemko

Martin Jones
Aaron Dell

Jets
Nic Petan – Bryan Little – Blake Wheeler
Nikolaj Ehlers – Mark Scheifele – Patrik Laine
Shawn Matthias – Adam Lowry – Joel Armia
Brandon Tanev – Andrew Copp – Chris Thorburn

Josh Morrissey – Dustin Byfuglien
Toby Enstrom – Jacob Trouba
Mark Stuart – Paul Postma

Ondrej Pavalec
Connor Hellebuyck

INJURIES

Sharks: Joonas Donskoi (upper body) is questionable. Micheal Haley (lower body), Dylan DeMelo (broken wrist) and Tomas Hertl (right knee sprain) are out.

Jets: Patrik Laine (concussion) and Drew Stafford (lower body) are day-to-day. Tyler Myers (lower body), Marko Dano (lower body), and Ben Chiarot (lower body) are out.

QUOTEABLE

“For a while there we were up and down, winning some games, losing some games. Now we’re putting some wins together and separating ourselves from the teams behind us.” – Marc-Edouard Vlasic