Niemi, Sharks shut out Blackhawks for 1-0 win

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Niemi, Sharks shut out Blackhawks for 1-0 win

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SAN JOSE Sharks' goalie Antti Niemi had beaten his former team before. But never like this.

Niemi posted his first shutout of the season -- and first in his career against Chicago -- by making 34 saves in a 1-0 Sharks victory over the Blackhawks at HP Pavilion on Wednesday night. Jason Demers scored the only goal on a power play in the second period.

Niemi admitted earlier in the week that its still special for him to play against Chicago, which he helped to win a Stanley Cup in 2010, but which he also walked away from after a salary arbitration ruling that summer - making him a free agent.

That means its an even better feeling to get the win, right?

Yeah, for sure, a little bit, said Niemi, who was 3-1 against Chicago last season. I think as time goes by its less and less, but a little bit, yeah.

It might not be a coincidence, either. Niemi knows some of the Blackhawks top scorers well, having practiced against them during his two years in the organization.

I maybe recognize whos coming, so maybe I think whos shooting or whos not, he said. I think some of those I was expecting the shot, and it came, he said.

Niemi has allowed two or fewer goals in his last five starts all wins.

Hes the reason we got two points tonight. He played great, and for whatever reason he just likes playing against his old team, said Joe Thornton. Thank goodness for that.

Niemis effort was the biggest reason the game was still scoreless late in the second period when Chicagos Dave Bolland was whistled for hooking at 17:04. Just four seconds after their power play began, the Sharks scored when Demers shot of a rolling puck deflected off of Jonathan Toews stick and past goaltender Corey Crawford.

Logan Couture took the offensive zone faceoff, but it was Ryane Clowe who out-muscled Patrick Sharp in the circle to get the puck back to Demers at the point.

Its an area we talk about a lot, especially against good faceoff teams. You need the winger help, said Clowe. I tried to almost cheat a little bit and get a little bit of a jump. We stress that a lot.

Demers, who has been in and out of the lineup and played in just his 10th game, said the goal was a big weight off of his shoulders.

For sure, its a monkey off my back. Theres no hiding its been a tough start to the year, he said. But, Im working on the things I need to work on and its paying off slowly.

The Sharks rotated their entire third defense pair for the third straight game. Demers and Jim Vandermeer, who also played last Saturday in Dallas, got the call on Wednesday against the Blackhawks. It was Colin White and Justin Braun, though, who suited up for the win in Colorado on Sunday.

McLellan liked what he saw out of Demers and Vandermeer against Chicago.

I thought Demers and Vandermeer played maybe their best games of the year, he said. Its nice to see when a couple of them havent played a lot.

The Sharks struggled with an aggressive forecheck from Chicago for much of the first two periods. The Blackhawks were trying to end a two-game losing streak, which included a 9-2 throttling in Edmonton on Saturday.

Niemi held the Sharks in it, but was also fortunate that a couple of prime opportunities missed the mark.

Chicagos first great chance came early when Brent Burns fell down, leading to a Marian Hossa breakaway. Hossa fired high about seven minutes after the opening faceoff. Midway through the first, Niemi made a quick pad save on a shot by Toews on a Blackhawks power play.

Niemi continued to frustrate the Blackhawks in the second. During one furious sequence on another Chicago power play, Niemi quickly went right to left and stopped a one-timer by Marcus Kruger after some fancy passing by the Blackhawks. The rebound bounced right back to Kruger, who backhanded a pass to Bolland in the high slot, but Bollands shot missed the open net.

The Sharks woke up in time for the third, taking some pressure off of their goaltender. Still, Niemi made a good glove save of a slap shot by Duncan Keith, and with less than four minutes left, stuffed Toews at the side of the net with his stick along the ice and the puck trickled harmlessly through the crease.

A couple of his saves were spectacular, said Thornton.

The Sharks managed to increase their winning streak to four games on a night where some of their key players werent as energized as usual - including the captain.

Thornton said, It kind of felt like we didnt have our legs until the third period.

Clowe agreed.

Im not going to lie, I didnt feel the best. Looking around, you look for other guys to see if they have jump, and it just felt like one of those games where guys were skating uphill.

In the end, though, it didnt matter, as Niemi lowered his goals-against average to 2.31 and upped his save percentage to .923 in winning his ninth game.

Were glad to have him on this side, said Thornton.

Odds and ends: The Sharks were 4-for-4 on the penalty kill and 1-for-4 with the power play. Niemis 34 saves are the most hes had among his 14 career shutouts. Demers has seven points (3g, 4a) in eight games against Chicago in his career. The Sharks are 7-0 when scoring the first goal of the game.

Sharks' Vlasic joins Canada for World Championships

Sharks' Vlasic joins Canada for World Championships

Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic will compete in the upcoming IIHF World Championships for Team Canada, it was announced on Friday.

The tournament runs from May 5-21 in Paris, France and Cologne, Germany. 

Vlasic, 30, a native of Montreal, has played in the tournament twice before in 2009 and 2012. He also represented Canada in the 2014 Olympic Games, helping it to a gold medal, and the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, which Canada also captured.

In 75 games with the Sharks this season, Vlasic posted 28 points (6g, 22a) and a +4 rating. He was second on the team in shorthanded time on ice (2:04 per game) and blocked shots (146).

A pending restricted free agent in 2018, Sharks general manager Doug Wilson called getting Vlasic signed to a long-term deal an offseason priority for the club. The two sides can begin negotiations on July 1.

“Vlasic [is] arguably one of the best defensemen in the league,” Wilson said. “[He] is still one of the most underrated players in the league in the outside world.”

The Sharks lost in the first round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs to Edmonton, although Vlasic and partner Justin Braun helped to keep Connor McDavid in check at even strength. The league's leading scorer had just one even strength point in the six-game series, an empty net goal with less than one second left in Game 6.

Boedker tops list of disappointing Sharks depth forwards

Boedker tops list of disappointing Sharks depth forwards

SAN JOSE – The Sharks didn’t make any blockbuster moves last summer, content to make another run in 2016-17 with largely the same group that came within two wins of capturing the Stanley Cup.

They still acquired a notable player, though, when Mikkel Boedker was signed on July 1 to add an element that the Sharks knew they needed more of moving forward – speed. Boedker was expected to make the team faster, after the Sharks were exposed for not having enough of that against Pittsburgh in the NHL’s final round, as well as play in a top six role. 

At the time, it was hailed as a slick, under-the-radar move that wasn’t going to change the dynamic of the club but could help push it over the top.

When Boedker was a healthy scratch in games three and four of the first round against Edmonton, the evidence became clear, though, that this was a decision that fell flat on its face. 

Frankly, Boedker – who is signed for three more years with a $4 million salary cap hit – brings back visions of Sharks bust Marty Havlat. You know the skill is there, but the desire to use it on a nightly basis while showing any semblance of a battle level is lacking. 

Should the Sharks give Boedker another chance next season, or should they do everything in their power to try and move him? That’s a question that will likely be debated in the front office over the next several weeks.

On get-away day on Monday, indications were that the Sharks were planning on sticking with the 27-year-old, who finished with 26 points in the regular season (10g, 16a) and added one goal and one assist in four games in the playoffs.

“He has the things we’re looking for: his career scoring average, his speed, [penalty killing] ability,” general manager Doug Wilson said. “Did he meet the expectations that he had for himself [or] that we had for him? No. Can we get that out of him? Pete [DeBoer] believes we can.”

DeBoer has known Boedker since he played for him in 2007-08 in Kitchener (OHL). Despite scratching him in the playoffs, DeBoer said he saw “huge improvement” in Boedker throughout the course of the season after the forward spent nearly all of his NHL career in Arizona.

“There was an adjustment. He’s played 6-7 years a certain way in the NHL,” DeBoer said. “We’ve asked him to play differently here, and there was an adjustment.”

Boedker still believes that he can be a fit in San Jose.

“I think it will be and it can be,” he said. “It’s learning period, but you’ve also got to look in the mirror yourself and see what you can change and what assets you need to bring. I’ve learned a lot, and I’m ready to do that.”

The list of Sharks depth forwads that had frustrating seasons hardly begins and ends with Boedker, though.

Veteran Joel Ward’s production dipped from 43 points last season to 29 in 2016-17, although that probably isn’t too surprising considering he’s 36. Tomas Hertl is proving to be a streaky player, too, although his season was interrupted by another a knee injury.

The bigger disappointment came from players like Chris Tierney and Joonas Donskoi, who both made big impressions in the 2016 playoffs but struggled to produce consistent offense this year. Both were mentioned by name by DeBoer on Monday.

There are some promising youngsters in the pipeline like Timo Meier, Kevin Labanc and Marcus Sorensen, but it’s still too early to project any of them as can’t-miss scorers at the NHL level.

“I think we’ve got a large group of guys that I like, but need to step up,” DeBoer said. “Is Sorensen [like] Donskoi next year, where he takes a step back, or [does he take a] step forward? We’ve got a lot of guys that there’s a lot of potential there – Chris Tierney. 

“There’s a lot of those guys, but they need to have big summers and take a step, and show that they’re not just one season or one month players.”