Niemi to play full game vs. Ducks Saturday

Niemi to play full game vs. Ducks Saturday
September 27, 2013, 2:15 pm
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Antti Niemi is 1-0-1 with a 1.46 GAA and .946 save percentage through his first two games, including a shutout in Tuesday's 5-0 win over Vancouver. (AP)

SAN JOSE – Alex Stalock will start in net on Friday night against Phoenix, and Antti Niemi will play the full game on Saturday in Anaheim, as the Sharks wrap up their preseason schedule with a pair of road games this weekend.

Whether Stalock plays the full 60 minutes against the Coyotes will be decided during the game. Harri Sateri will dress as Stalock’s backup, and could see some action, as well.

“We’ll decide as we go,” Todd McLellan said of his goaltenders. “You know my preference is to play guys full nights, but tonight might be a night where we do have to split them, and give them an equal opportunity to play.”

The Sharks will almost certainly keep just two goaltenders around when the season begins next week, and Stalock’s start on Friday could be viewed as an indication he has the advantage on Sateri for the backup gig. Each goaltender has played one full game, and each has allowed two goals.

Regardless, it’s an important game for the 26-year-old Minnesota native, who hasn’t played since the preseason opener in Vancouver on Sep. 16 when camp was less than a week old.

“You’re getting towards the end of camp, and everybody at this point can play in the NHL,” Stalock said. “It’s tough cuts the rest of the way. [Phoenix] will be a strong lineup and probably stronger than Vancouver sent out in that game one, but it will be a good test.”

Niemi will play his third full game of the preseason Saturday. He’s 1-0-1 with a 1.46 goals-against average and .946 save percentage through the first two, including a shutout in Tuesday's 5-0 win over Vancouver in which he was rarely challenged.

The Sharks took 28 players on their Friday afternoon charter to Phoenix, as more roster decisions have to be made. That will prevent San Jose from dressing a full, NHL-only lineup in either of its final two preseason games.

On Friday, for example, the Sharks are expected to dress the Joe Thornton line with Brent Burns and Tomas Hertl, but the Logan Couture-Patrick Marleau-Tyler Kennedy trio will have the night off. Young players like Matt Nieto, Freddie Hamilton and Matt Tennyson are all going to get more playing time, as will tryout forward Anthony Stewart.

Considering the Sharks didn’t make many offseason changes, and most of the players are already familiar with one another, the inflated roster this late in camp doesn’t seem to concern McLellan.

“Because we are on the road and going to play back-to-back, as much as I’d like to have our full lineup in that last game against Anaheim, we won’t,” he said. “We’ll still be looking at some of our other players, and giving them the best opportunity to make or not make the team, to the bitter end.”

As for the veterans, the aim for these final two games is simple.

Thornton said: “Now you’re at the point where you’re feeling good about yourself, the team is starting to know how we’re supposed to play, and just as long as you get through these next two games healthy, you’ll be ready for the season to start.”

“Just getting back to being consistent in our system and not having to think out there, I think that’s the main thing, where everything becomes automatic again,” Marleau said.