Niemi steadily improves during homestand


Niemi steadily improves during homestand

SAN JOSE The Sharks six-game homestand didnt start out too well for Antti Niemi.

At home against the Penguins on Nov. 3 after just completing a long road trip, the Sharks came out flat and quickly surrendered two goals to Pittsburgh in just over two minutes. Although they werent completely Niemis fault, Todd McLellan pulled his netminder and Thomas Greiss play allowed the team to come from behind and win in a shootout, 4-3.

After Niemi allowed four goals to Nashville in a 4-3 loss in the second game, his numbers fell below the goalies version of the Mendoza Line. His goals-against average was above three (3.09) and his save percentage below .900 (.892).

McLellan, though, stuck with him. In a key division matchup against the Kings on Nov. 7, Niemi made 29 saves in a 4-2 win. He followed that up by allowing just one goal against the Minnesota Wild in a 3-1 home win for the Sharks on Nov. 10, with 21 saves.

After Greiss took the 3-0 loss to Phoenix on Nov. 12, Niemi came back on Thursday night and played perhaps his best game of the season. With the Red Wings all over the Sharks early, Niemi allowed just one goal in the first period on 17 Detroit shots when a power play blast from the point by Niklas Kronwall went in off of Dan Boyle.

The Red Wings scored just once more in garbage time, again on the power play, but that came after the Sharks scored five unanswered goals and already had the game decided. When it was over, Niemi had a season-high 40 saves.

San Jose finished their run at HP Pavilion with a 4-1-1 record.

Its a good homestand. When you get nine out of 12 points, its good, said Joe Thornton. Nemo played great, and that definitely helps. That was probably the key.

Niemi, of course, missed all of training camp and the preseason after a cyst was surgically removed from his leg. McLellan has said all along that it might take some time for his starting goalie to work his way into season. By all indications, Niemi is playing his best hockey of the still young 2011-12 campaign.

I asked him on Friday if the game against the Red Wings was the best hes felt all year.

It was pretty close, for sure, said Niemi, who now sports a respectable 2.67 goals-against average and .910 save percentage. I was pretty confident and patient.

Like most goalies, Niemi was just fine with getting so much work early from a swarming Red Wings team.

When you get lots of shots in first and they dont score too many goals, its easier to keep going in the second and third, he said.

The Sharks now go back on the road, where they will face two teams struggling for wins. Dallas got off to a hot start but has lost its last three, while Colorado has just one win in its last eight games. The Stars and Avalanche play one another on Friday night.

Report: Division rival interested in Joe Thornton

Report: Division rival interested in Joe Thornton

The mere thought of Joe Thornton wearing a Kings sweater may be enough to cause some Sharks fans to lose their lunch.

But it might be a possibility.

According to LA Kings Insider Jon Rosen, the Kings consider Thornton to be a “priority” should be hit the open market as a free agent. While the two sides are currently allowed to express mutual interest, NHL rules forbid them from discussing terms of any deal until Saturday at 9 a.m. PT.

Rosen points to a number of individuals in the Kings' organization that have ties to Thornton, including general manager Rob Blake, who played on the Sharks with Thornton from 2008-10. Mike O’Connell was Thornton’s general manager in Boston and currently serves as the Kings’ senior advisor to the general manager. Glen Murray, a former teammate and frequent linemate of Thornton’s with the Bruins for three-and-a-half seasons, is in Kings player development.

The Kings, under new management since replacing Dean Lombardi with Blake, and head coach Darryl Sutter with John Stevens, have put a priority on finding players this offseason that can get pucks to dangerous scoring areas. 

Adding one of the best passers in the history of the NHL would surely help in that regard. Thornton sits 13th in the NHL all-time with 1,007 assists.

Rosen writes: “Los Angeles has been a dominant possession team without being a high scoring team for the better part of the last six-plus seasons, and it was articulated earlier in the off-season that the team needed to do a better job of taking advantage of that possession discrepancy. In trying to find players with the ability to turn possession into actual production, the team has placed an emphasis on finding players capable of distributing the puck into high-danger in the attacking zone. There might not be another player in the NHL – let alone unrestricted free agents – who is as gifted of a passer of Thornton, which places the team’s needs in concert with the future Hall of Famer’s skill set.”

As reported here previously Thornton, who turns 38 on Sunday, is seeking a deal of three years. That might not be agreeable to the Sharks, who are likely to sign Martin Jones and Marc-Edouard Vlasic to long-term and expensive contract extensions that would kick in with the 2018-19 season.

Of course, Thornton could also be using the Kings as leverage to get a new deal in San Jose, where he would prefer to remain.

Tierney, Sorensen among players qualified by Sharks

Tierney, Sorensen among players qualified by Sharks

The Sharks have issued qualifying offers to restricted free agent forwards Chris Tierney, Marcus Sorensen and Barclay Goodrow, while cutting ties with three players in the system.

Tierney, 22, posted 11 goals and 12 assists for 23 points in 80 games last season, serving primarily as the fourth line center. He has 64 points (24g, 40a) in 202 career games over three NHL seasons, all with the Sharks.

Sorensen posted one goal and three assists in 19 games with the Sharks last season, his first in the NHL. The 25-year-old played in all six playoff games against Edmonton, scoring one goal and one assist.

Goodrow, 24, skated in three games for the Sharks last season with one assist. He has 16 points (4g, 12a) in 77 games over three seasons with the Sharks, although has played in just 17 NHL games since the start of the 2015-16 season.

Forward Nikita Jevpalovs, defenseman Patrick McNally and goalie Mantas Armalis - also known for his career as a male model - were left unqualified and are now unrestricted free agents.

Earlier in the offseason, the Sharks signed pending restricted free agents Joonas Donskoi and Melker Karlsson. Donskoi received a two-year deal at a salary cap hit of $1.9 million, while Karlsson was signed to a three-year deal at $2 million annually.