Niemi still enjoying heavy workload


Niemi still enjoying heavy workload

ANAHEIM There isnt any uncertainty that Sharks goalie Antti Niemi likes getting the bulk of the work in net. That was reaffirmed after Tuesdays practice in Anaheim, when Niemi was asked how many of the next 12 games in 21 days hed like to start.

Close to 12, Niemi said.

Hes already gotten the call for the last dozen games, and 16 of the previous 17. It sounds as if hell be making consecutive start number 13 on Wednesday when San Jose goes for its first win of the season in four tries against last place Anaheim.

Niemi made 27 saves on Monday in a 3-2 win over Vancouver, improving to 16-7-4 with a solid 2.34 goals-against average and .917 save percentage. A four-day break for the Sharks before that game allowed him to catch his breath.

I know Nemo played last night, but all three goalies are fresh, Todd McLellan said. As we get through to the All-Star break, well have to access the other goaltenders and well have a plan for that. Right now, with back-to-back games coming up, that could be our first opportunity, but nothings written in stone.

That sure sounds like a hint that either Thomas Greiss or Antero Niittymaki will get the call against Columbus on Thursday at HP Pavilion. Conventional wisdom would say that Greiss will be the next goalie to start that isnt named Antti Niemi, as hes continued to dress as the backup even after Niittymaki was medically cleared and rejoined the team in mid-December.

The game against Columbus would make perfect sense, as the Blue Jackets have been dead last in the NHL for virtually the entire season, and it will be the end of a three-games-in four-nights stretch for the Sharks.

Greiss hasnt played in exactly one month a 5-3 loss to Florida on December 3.

He admits that hes thought the busy schedule may allow him to get back into the crease, so is trying to stay as sharp as possible in practice.

I just go from game to game, try to practice and do my best, and when I get in Ill be ready, he said.

Since Niemi is a goalie that likes to play as much as possible, and seems to play his best hockey when the workload is heavy, it makes it a little more complicated for McLellan to pick his spots to pull him from the lineup.

It does, and we have to keep that in mind, said the coach. Once we get deeper into this logjam of games it will make it a little bit easier. But right now, hes fresh, and looking at you like hey, put me in, Im ready. Hes played fairly well, so there are a lot of things that are working in his favor right now.

Odds and ends: Logan Couture showed no ill effects from blocking a shot with his right knee in Monday night's game, skating the entire practice on Tuesday. Jim Vandermeer sure appears to be healthy, and didnt have any sort of protection on his injured hand in Tuesday's practice. In order for him to come off of injured reserve, though, the Sharks would have to clear a roster spot, and are probably in no rush to do so. Colin White is not with the team, still suffering from a lower body injury.

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.”