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.

Couture's father: Sharks center dealing with 'ugly injury' after puck to mouth

Couture's father: Sharks center dealing with 'ugly injury' after puck to mouth

After requiring a visit to a local hospital in Nashville due to being struck in the face with a deflected puck on Saturday night against the Predators, Logan Couture was able to fly back with the team to San Jose on Sunday morning.

The severity of his injury is still unknown, although his father, Chet, said on Twitter that it was “an ugly injury sadly.”

Another source close to the situation told CSN the injury is “brutal.”

Couture, who lost several teeth, visited with Sharks medical personnel on Sunday and a further update is expected on Monday. 

Perhaps the best-case scenario is that the injury looks a lot worse than it actually is, such as when Marc-Edouard Vlasic was sidelined for one week when he took a puck to the face from the stick Philadelphia’s Shayne Gostisbehere in late December.

Losing Couture for any period of time would be a difficult blow to the Sharks, who have lost their last six in regulation, including Saturday’s 7-2 defeat to the Predators. Couture is third on the team in scoring with 52 points, and has a team-leading 11 power play goals. He entered Saturday’s game with four goals and five assists in his last 10 games, and has arguably been the team’s best player since mid-January.

"You can't replace him, so it would be really tough,” Patrick Marleau said after the game Saturday. “But if that is the case, then guys are going to have to pull up the slack. Definitely we hope he's back sooner.”

Couture was set up just outside the crease in the third period when a Brent Burns point shot late in the second period hit a stick before squarely smacking into the 27-year-old’s mouth. He quickly skated to the dressing room under his own power with just 14 seconds before the intermission.

The Sharks have seven games remaining in the regular season, hosting the Rangers on Tuesday and visiting Edmonton and Calgary later this week. They are tied in points (91) with Anaheim and Edmonton in the Pacific Division.

Three takeaways: Sharks having trouble explaining meltdown

Three takeaways: Sharks having trouble explaining meltdown

NASHVILLE – The Sharks are returning to San Jose on Sunday in a crisis. Nothing good came from Saturday’s 7-2 loss to Nashville, their sixth straight in regulation. Let’s get to the painful three takeaways…

1 – No answers

Neither Joe Pavelski, Brent Burns nor Patrick Marleau – the three players made available to the media after Saturday’s game – offered any kind of in-depth analysis of what’s going wrong. Frankly, I’m not sure anyone really knows. It’s hard to believe that this is the same club that had lost just two games in regulation in its previous 14 before the losing streak began.

“If you’re putting a consistent effort in, battling, competing – it’s tough to lose six in a row,” Pavelski said. “You look at six in a row, and it just seems daunting. Like, how do you get there? So, I think we’ve just got to take a deep breath, really kind of refocus.”

Believe it or not, coach Pete DeBoer thought Saturday’s loss was “a step in the right direction” when asked why Friday night’s 6-1 beat down in Dallas wasn’t enough of a wake-up call. How often do you hear that after a five-goal defeat?

“I liked our game tonight better than I liked [Friday’s game] regardless of the score,” DeBoer said. “I don’t just look at the score. If you want to just judge it on the score than you might not say it’s a wake-up call, but I thought we were much more competitive tonight. 

“It was a step in the right direction. Every team goes through tough parts of the season, and this is ours. We’ve got a lot of character in the room. We’ll get through it.”

2 – Couture injury would spell doom, as Hertl still MIA

Let’s face it – if Logan Couture is out for any extended period of time, this team is DOA once the playoffs begin. Couture has been the Sharks’ best player since the All-Star break, and they don’t have anyone on the current roster or in the system that could replace him. As of Sunday morning, there was still no word as to the severity of his injury after taking a puck to the mouth and going to a local Nashville hospital.

If Couture were to miss time, Tomas Hertl would likely become the team’s second line center. Lately, though, Hertl doesn’t even resemble an effective third line center. He was victimized on Nashville’s first goal, which was similar to one of the Wild goals on Tuesday, when he was just too slow and not strong enough on his skates in getting outworked for a loose puck. He is scoreless in his last 12 games.

3 – Haley shows some emotion that others lack

It’s understandable that Micheal Haley didn’t like getting hit from behind by Calle Jarnkrok in the third period. But, you can’t just make a beeline for a guy and punch him in the face. Haley will almost certainly get suspended for the play.

At least, though, Haley showed a little bit of emotion in the game, including his first period fight with Cody McLeod. Perhaps guys like Hertl, Joonas Donskoi and Mikkel Boedker could take a lesson from the fiery Haley. Those three, in particular, have been virtually useless during this six-game stretch. 

If I’m DeBoer, I’d get on the phone with Doug Wilson and Roy Sommer and ask for a few guys from the Barracuda so I could – depending on the team’s health situation – scratch all three of them for Tuesday against the Rangers, or at least remove Boedker and Donskoi and put Hertl back on the wing. Drastic times call for drastic measures, do they not?