Plan B: what if Niemi's not ready?

Plan B: what if Niemi's not ready?
September 23, 2011, 12:41 am
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Kevin Kurz
CSNCalifornia.com

It doesnt take a Scotty Bowman or Mike Keenan to tell you that putting in your third string goaltender to start the season isnt ideal.

Here's what we know: Sharks starter Antti Niemi reportedly could be out 12 weeks -- sidelining him for the season opener on Oct. 8. Backup Antero Niittymaki could be out until January, and top prospect Alex Stalock cant even suit up for practice until February of 2012, meaning the Sharks could face an early hurdle to getting off to the strong start they so desperately seek this season.

Is it time to worry? Yes and no.

First, Niemis cyst-removal recovery, while nothing to scoff at, is still is not all that serious. It's not a torn knee ligament, it's not a concussion. The season is a long one, and barring something unforeseen, the veteran netminder will be back on his skates when it matters most.

Entering his second season in San Jose, Niemi showed down the stretch last season he could handle a heavy workload. In case youve forgotten, Niemi started 34 consecutive games when Niittymaki was battling his nagging injury problems, and went 24-4-4 with a 2.05 goals-against average and .929 save percentage over that span.

However, its nearly impossible in the NHL to have a successful regular season without both your starter and backup contributing solid play between the pipes. GM Doug Wilson knows it, which is why he signed Niemi in the summer of 2010 to join the veteran Niittymaki.

Thomas Greiss, who would probably be considered the third stringer at this point, doesnt have much NHL experience. In fact, after playing in 19 games over the course of two seasons with the Sharks, he packed his bags for the Swedish Elite League last season and put up some pretty pedestrian numbers. If the Sharks really considered him a viable option for an NHL job, they probably would have kept him around.

Meanwhile, Stalock is still on the long road to recovery from his serious severed nerve injury that he sustained last February while playing for Worcester. Even though hes ahead of schedule, its unlikely Stalock has any impact on Sharks this season. Instead, the club would be wise to ease him back into the AHL lineup at some point this year with the goal of him being fully healthy for training camp 2012.

Could Wilson be in the market for an experienced NHL backup, like, say, Marty Turco? You would have to think hes exploring that option, since the Sharks want to avoid their up-and-down first half of the season that they suffered through last year.

Having said all that -- would you be comfortable with Niemi and Greiss as your goalie tandem for the first half of this season, or are you worried about the Sharks goalie depth? Let us know in your comments below.