Niemi's status in question

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Niemi's status in question

When Sharks camp began on Friday, Antti Niemi was listed as 'day to day' following the removal of a cyst. That was now six days ago, and since, the Finnish netminder has skated, but has not faced shots from his teammates yet.

The Mercury News recently asked Antti if he expected to be ready for the season opener, October 8th. His response, "I don't know about that. We'll see."

Niemi, like many of the Sharks, rarely gives full details of injuries or timelines for return. It's just an unwritten club policy, that further extends to many other teams and players around the NHL. Hockey is the only sport where ailments are acceptably described, only by the half of body they hinder. The point: don't read too much into a vague answer.

The biggest issue with Niemi's setback, is that backup Antero Niittymaki is not skating yet. He has recurring leg injuries from last season, which may require surgery, that could have him sidelined for 3-4 months. General Manager Doug Wilson told me that Antero is flying to Los Angeles to see a specialist. The team would prefer he gets this issue resolved, sooner than later.

"You don't want a player to have an interrupted season," Wilson said about Niittymaki. "We would rather address something right now."

This leaves Thomas Greiss, as the most healthy option, as of today. The German played 10 games in 09-10 for the Sharks, backing up Evgeni Nabokov, but last season was shipped overseas by San Jose.

"Thomas Greiss certainly deserves the opportunity. Last year he was never out of our plans, it's just the opportunity for his growth was to go over to Europe, and we're happy he's back."

NHL Gameday: Sharks host Lightning in second of back-to-back

NHL Gameday: Sharks host Lightning in second of back-to-back

Programming note – Sharks-Lightning coverage starts today at 7:00 on CSN California with Sharks Pregame Live

WHERE THEY STAND

Sharks: 27-16-2, 56 points, 3rd Pacific Division
Lightning: 21-20-5, 47 points, 6th Atlantic Division

PREGAME NEWS AND NOTES

***After missing Wednesday’s game in Los Angeles due to illness, Logan Couture could return against the Lightning. According to coach Pete DeBoer, Couture is feeling “good. Talked to him this morning at the rink. Went for a little skate. Looks good, but we won’t know until game time.”

Joonas Donskoi, who has missed the last three games with an upper body injury, will also be a game-time decision.

***Aaron Dell will make his second start in a little more than a week, getting back in shortly after a 3-2 loss in Calgary on Jan. 11. The game winner came from Dougie Hamilton from a sharp angle with 2:19 to go, on what was a stoppable shot.

“I think [Dell's] body of work has been real good. That could happen to anybody,” DeBoer said of the Hamilton goal. “I didn’t think he had a poor game that night. It’s going to happen. This isn’t like you need to see a bounce back effort, or anything like that. We’re comfortable with what he brings. I know he’s excited to play, and he’s played well for us.”

***The Lightning are just 2-5-1 in their last eight games, and are in the midst of a six-game road swing. It started with a win over the Kings on Monday, 2-1, and was followed by a 2-1 overtime loss in Anaheim on Tuesday. Tampa Bay has scored two or fewer goals in six of its last seven, but also brings the NHL’s fourth-ranked power play (22.9 percent) into tonight’s contest.

No word yet on the goalie, either, after Martin Jones made 22 saves in the Sharks’ 3-2 win at Staples Center. It could make sense to go back to Jones against the Lightning, while leaving the miserable Colorado Avalanche for backup Aaron Dell on Saturday.

***The Lightning are just 2-5-1 in their last eight games, and are in the midst of a six-game road swing. It started with a win over the Kings on Monday, 2-1, and was followed by a 2-1 overtime loss in Anaheim on Tuesday. Tampa Bay has scored two or fewer goals in six of its last seven, but also brings the NHL’s fourth-ranked power play (22.9 percent) into tonight’s contest.

Top defenseman Victor Hedman reportedly remains out tonight with an illness. It will be his third straight game out of the lineup. He leads the league among blueliners with 31 assists, and his 38 points trails only Brent Burns (46).

***San Jose beat the Lightning in the only other game of the season series on Nov. 12 in Tampa Bay, 3-1. The Sharks are 4-3-0 this season in the second of back-to-back games, and 15-6-0 against the Eastern Conference.

Tampa Bay is just 3-8-2 against the Western Conference.

KEEP AN EYE ON...

Sharks: Tommy Wingels. Although he’s found it difficult to stay in the lineup on a nightly basis this season, Wingels has managed to contribute recently, including a goal against the Kings on Wednesday. The 28-year-old fourth liner has one point in three of his last six games, despite being scratched for seven of the last 12 overall. He’s had success against the Lightning, too, with four goals and seven points in eight career games.

Lightning: Jonathan Drouin. The forward saw a five-game point streak come to an end on Jan. 17, but has at least one point in eight of his last 10 games overall. After a misguided decision last season in which he demanded a trade that never happened, Drouin, 21, is third on the Lightning in scoring with 29 points (13g, 16a).

PROBABLE LINES

Sharks
Melker Karlsson – Joe Thornton – Joe Pavelski
Kevin Labanc – Patrick Marleau – Mikkel Boedker
Timo Meier – Chris Tierney – Joel Ward
Micheal Haley – Ryan Carpenter – Tommy Wingels

Paul Martin – Brent Burns
Marc-Edouard Vlasic – Justin Braun
Brenden Dillon – David Schlemko

Aaron Dell (starter)
Martin Jones

Lightning
Ondrej Palat – Vlad Namestnikov – Nikita Kucherov
Alex Killorn – Tyler Johnson – Joel Vermin
Brian Boyle – Valtteri Filppula – Jonathan Drouin
Michael Bournival – Cedric Paquette – Gabriel Dumont

Nikita Nesterov – Anton Stralman
Jason Garrison – Andrej Sustr
Braydon Coburn – Luke Witkowski

Andrei Vasilevskiy (starter)
Ben Bishop

INJURIES

Sharks: Logan Couture (illness) and Joonas Donskoi (upper body) are questionable. Dylan DeMelo (broken wrist) and Tomas Hertl (right knee sprain) are on injured reserve.

Lightning: Steven Stamkos (torn meniscus), Brayden Point (upper body), J.T. Brown (upper body), Ryan Callahan (lower body) and Victor Hedman (illness) are out.

QUOTEABLE

“I think we’ve been saying all year our job is to try and be in their end and get a good forecheck. Luckily of late we’ve been getting some points, so that’s good.” – Micheal Haley, on the recent play of the Sharks’ fourth line.

Three takeaways: Sharks getting regular production from fourth line

Three takeaways: Sharks getting regular production from fourth line

LOS ANGELES – It’s a bit strange that the Sharks and Kings won’t play again this season, and the way things are going for Los Angeles, there’s a good chance a playoff matchup won’t be possible, either.

Here are the three takeaways from Wednesday’s 3-2 Sharks win at Staples Center, giving them three wins in five games over their primary adversary.

1 – Shutting down the Kings’ top guys

While goal scoring has come and gone for the Sharks, as long as they keep putting up defensive efforts like they did on Wednesday, they’re going to be fine more nights than not. Jeff Carter was held in check, while Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty both failed to record a single shot on goal.

Los Angeles coach Darryl Sutter was critical of his stars after the game.

“When it’s that close going into the third period, you need your top guys to step up and make a difference in the third. That wasn’t the case,” Sutter told LAKingsinsider.com.

“You need your big guys to score. I think other than Jeff, there hasn’t been a whole lot of that.”

On the other side, the Sharks got goals from Brent Burns and Joe Pavelski, while Joe Thornton had a pair of assists in one of his better games of late. 

2 – Strong special teams

Pavelski shot down a suggestion that special teams was the biggest difference in the game, but in a one-goal win, the Sharks got a power play goal from their captain while completely shutting down the Kings’ power play.

San Jose is 3-for-13 on the power play over the last four games, and the top unit looked dangerous all night, even without Logan Couture. Pavelski was especially jazzed after his goal, perhaps wiping away some lingering visions of his missed net against the Blues last Saturday.

The Sharks’ penalty kill, though, was brilliant. Los Angeles had just one shot in seven minutes and 39 seconds of time on the man advantage.

“I think we did a good job up the ice. We stopped a couple on the breakout,” Burns said. “That’s huge to keep it down.”

3 – Fourth line contributors

Over the last six games, the Sharks’ fourth line – featuring some different players at different times – has contributed 12 points (that includes Mikkel Boedker’s hat trick in Edmonton).

Against the Kings, it was Micheal Haley, Tommy Wingels and Ryan Carpenter giving the team good minutes. Wingels scored the Sharks’ second goal on a nifty setup by Haley on a two-on-one, while Carpenter looked comfortable in his 12 minutes of ice time despite not playing an NHL game in a month and a half.

“I thought [Carpenter] came up and gave us some real good minutes, and Hales has been great all year,” Pete DeBoer said. “Big goal by Wingels coming into the lineup after sitting for awhile.”

Haley said: “It’s definitely nice to get a goal. That’s always a positive. I think we’ve been saying all year our job is to try and be in their end and get a good forecheck. Luckily of late we’ve been getting some points, so that’s good.”