Niemi out, Greiss to start Sharks opener

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Niemi out, Greiss to start Sharks opener

SAN JOSE Thomas Greiss will start in net on Saturday when the Sharks host the Phoenix Coyotes in San Jose's opening game of the 2011-12 season.

Head coach Todd McLellan revealed after Fridays practice at Sharks Ice that Antti Niemi is still not healthy enough to play, as predicted here yesterday. Niemi underwent surgery to remove a cyst from his leg just before the beginning of training camp.

Greiss, who spent last season in Sweden after four seasons in the Sharks organization, had a strong preseason posting a 4-1-0 record with a 1.71 goals-against average and .928 save percentage.

Hes looked good this week, said McLellan. We signed him and brought him back for a reason, and we believe he can do it. Just like all the other players, he gets his opportunity.

Griess was asked before McLellan's announcement how excited he would be if he were to start the first game at HP Pavilion.

It would be great. It would be the first home opener for me, so it would be fun.

The 25-year-old German native admitted that spending last season in Sweden wasnt too enjoyable, and hes glad to be back in the NHL. Greiss' goal was securing a roster spot with Antero Niittymaki out for the first half of the season with a hip injury.

Starting on opening night is just icing on the cake.

Ill be happy with whatever ice time I get, will try and do my best and prove myself, he said.

Griess was asked how hes a different goaltender now as compared to before he went abroad, and replied that hes calmer and more mature. McLellan agrees.

I think he feels he belongs here and expects to be here. His teammates are more comfortable with him. Hes been around long enough now that they know him and what to expect from him in certain situations.

Its another life form. Last year, through circumstances, it wasnt a pleasant season for him. Hes back in the NHL and starting on opening night. Thats a great opportunity and another life form.

Now, just because Griess was third on the depth chart behind Niemi and Niittymaki before the latters injury, doesnt mean hes going to relegated to the bench once Niemi is healthy. The last thing McLellan wants to do is play any one of his goaltenders too much at the start of the season, despite how good Niemi was in the second half of last season when he started 34 straight games.

In other words, expect to see Greiss much more than just on opening night.

Especially in the first half of the season, there will be more of a balance, said McLellan. Then, as the second half comes around, well make decisions and move forward from there.

Based on where Niittymaki is injury-wise, its probably going to put Nemo and Greisser in a situation where they are going to have to be the go-to guys. Hell get his opportunity to play.

Canucks battling mumps ahead of meeting with Sharks

Canucks battling mumps ahead of meeting with Sharks

Several Vancouver Canucks are battling an outbreak of the mumps ahead of a game on Saturday with the Sharks at Rogers Arena.

At least five players are expected to miss the game. Troy Stecher is the only player with a confirmed test result, general manager Jim Benning said in a statement, but Chris Tanev, Nikita Tryamkin, Mike Chaput and Markus Granlund “have each presented symptoms.”

Players with symptoms are “immediately being tested and quarantined in isolation for a five-day period from the onset of symptoms or until test results prove negative.”

Vancouver Coastal Health authorities were on hand at Rogers Arena on Friday to screen players and staff, and issue immunizations if necessary.

The Sharks and Canucks will both be coming off of their bye week when they play for the second of five times this season.

Sharks' Thornton can follow Marleau, make history in Vancouver

Sharks' Thornton can follow Marleau, make history in Vancouver

SAN JOSE – Three weeks ago, Sharks forward Patrick Marleau made history in Vancouver when he scored his 500th career goal at Rogers Arena on Feb. 2.

His longtime teammate has a chance to make more history on the same ice surface on Saturday. Joe Thornton sits two assists away from becoming just the 13th player in NHL history to reach 1,000 for his career, as the Sharks prepare to resume their post-bye week schedule against the Canucks.

“It’s neat,” Thornton said recently. “It’s something I don’t think growing up or even playing so many years you realize you’re going to hit this milestone. When you see the names – I haven’t really looked at the names yet. I think once it hits I’ll kind of peek and see who’s on that list. It’s a nice accomplishment, I guess.”

Thornton, of course, has helped make goal scorers out of many different teammates throughout his career in Boston and San Jose. Marleau has scored 120 goals in which Thornton registered an assist to top the list, while Joe Pavelski is close behind (111). Jonathan Cheechoo (89 goals assisted by Thornton), Boston’s Glen Murray (70) and Brent Burns (50) have also benefited from being on the ice at the same time as the best player in Sharks franchise history.

“I’ve been lucky to play with so many goal scorers,” Thornton said. “For a guy that passes the puck a lot, you need guys to finish. I’ve been lucky enough ever since I’ve been here in San Jose, and really my whole career. … I’ve had so many good goal scorers that it helps you get to that point.”

Logan Couture gave Thornton more credit than he was willing to give himself. 

“You look over the years – Cheechoo, [Devin Setoguchi], now Pav. He finds guys in the slot," Couture said. "Obviously he’s made some tremendous passes over the years, and guys have put it in the back of the net. … The way he’s able to kind of take a quick peek out of the corner of his eye and find someone and deliver it through feet and sticks and all that stuff, it’s pretty special.”

Thornton is currently 23rd all-time in scoring in NHL history with 1,380 points. He would be just the second player in to debut during the 1990s to reach 1,000 career assists, joining Florida’s Jaromir Jagr. He could eclipse Joe Sakic (1,016 assists) for 12th place on the all-time assist list before the season is through, and is 43 helpers away from breaking into the top 10 (Marcel Dionne, 1,040).

In 60 games this season, Thornton has five goals and 34 assists for 39 points. He has recorded multiple assists in a game six times this season, with the most recent occurrence on Jan. 18 in Los Angeles.

Although he’s off his scoring pace from last season, when he had 82 points in 82 games and finished fifth in voting for the Hart Trophy, Thornton has admitted that this season has been a grind for him. The 37-year-old is coming off of a short summer, helping the Sharks reach their first-ever Stanley Cup Final, and helped Canada win the World Cup of Hockey in September, too.

He’ll be a player to watch coming out of the bye week, which he was looking forward to.

“For me, it’s nice. It’s going to be a nice little break before our last [22] games and our postseason,” he said last week." I think it kind of fits in perfect for us. Get our rest, and get ready for the sprint.”

In 56 career regular season games against the Canucks, Thornton has 16 goals and 48 assists for 64 points.