Sharks spotlight: Antti Niemi

732660.jpg

Sharks spotlight: Antti Niemi

Editor's note: Over the next month, CSNCalifornia.com Sharks Insider Kevin Kurz and Postgame Live reporter Brodie Brazil will evaluate the 2011-12 performance of each player on the roster. One breakdown will occur every weekday in numerical order.

Sharks spotlight -- the series
Sharks spotlight: Antti NiemiAge: 28 GIn his second season with the Sharks, goalie Antti Niemi posted34-22-9 record with a 2.42 goals-against average and .915 save percentage in 68games. His six shutouts tied him for fifth in the league. In five playoffgames, Niemi was 1-4 with a 2.45 GAA and .914 SP.Kurz says: Niemi was never able to get on the kind ofroll he enjoyed in the second half of the 2010-11 season, despite starting thefinal 21 games. On several occasions, Niemi and coach Todd McLellan said thatthe more Niemi plays, the more comfortable he gets and the better he is butit just didnt happen this season. Although his numbers werent terrible, Niemiallowed far too many weak and deflating goals that cost the Sharks points downthe stretch. It carried over into the playoffs, when he was very good for longstretches, but still maddeningly inconsistent. Niemi also must shoulder some ofthe Sharks penalty kill failures, as its now been two seasons with Niemibetween the pipes that that unit has been poor.SLIDESHOW: Grading the Sharks
Brodie says: Therewas much concern over Niemis health heading into the season, as theremoval of a cyst kept him out near the end of training camp and through thefirst 3 games. However, all uncertaintywas put to rest, as the Finnish netminder returned healthy and stayed that wayfor the rest of the campaign.To see how Niemi correlated with the team this season, Ithink its beneficial to contrast his monthly GAA vs. win-loss record. October(2.65, 4-2-0), higher average but offense wins games. November(2.12, 5-2-1), definitely successful.December (2.37, 6-3-3), goodmonth for a higher workload. January (1.96, 7-3-1), goalie making adifference in the best stretch of the season.February (3.42, 3-5-1), worstmonth of the season defense clearly a challenge. March(2.20, 7-7-3), highest working month offense clearly a challenge. April(3.28, 2-0-0) small sample size, difficult to judge crazy games. April Playoffs (2.45, 1-4), PK didnt help average, and we all know Sharks hadtrouble scoring goals.In summary, you can see portions where the goaltender savedhis team. But on the contrary, with theexception of October when goals were plentiful, the team did not regularlymuster up enough tallies to save its goaltender. Its quite clear that February was Niemis(and the collective teams) worst month, when preventing goals was aproblem. However he personally reboundednicely in March during the teams busiest month: although thats when the teamhad challenges scoring their own goals.2012-13 expectationsKurz says: Niemi is one of a number of Sharks players thatwill have to improve if the team wants any chance of battling for the PacificDivision title. If he falters early next season, he could conceivably end upseeing less playing time if the coaching staff wants to give Thomas Greiss orAlex Stalock a more serious look at being the starter.In fact, the Sharks organizational goaltending depth couldlead to trying to move Niemi, who still has three years remaining on hiscontract. There would likely be some interested parties, too, as Niemi has alreadyproven he can lead a team to a Stanley Cup championship.Related: Niemis stats splits game logs
Brodie says: TheSharks ultimately have expectations of winning a Stanley Cup, which cannot bedone in this day and age without a red-hot goalie. The question you must then ultimately ask yourself:does Antti Niemi have the capability to perform at that seemingly unbelievablelevel? My feeling is, absolutely. He has done it before.Part of what could help Niemi, are the 5 but mostly 4skaters in front of him. Certainly thepenalty kill was San Joses Achilles heel during both the regular andpostseasons. And its not to say thatNiemi could have bailed his special teams out a few more times just thattheres also that expression of hanging someone out to dry.Im torn on how to manage time between San Joses goaliesnext year. On one hand, Id like Niemito get comfortable and conditioned, with all the high minutes he and thecoaching staff desire. On the flipside,the development of Thomas Greiss (and others) are very important, in terms oftheir value and contributions. The jobof a backup does entail coming in when the team needs you, but it cant beconsidered a recipe for success to go weeks, and even a month between starts,as Greiss did.Bottom line: Niemi is the guy, and he will be expected to dothe heavy lifting once again.Up next: Daniel Winnik

Despite loss, Sharks 'in a good spot' headed into bye week

sharks-win-bruins.jpg
USATSI

Despite loss, Sharks 'in a good spot' headed into bye week

SAN JOSE – Despite what was technically their sixth loss in the last eight games, the Sharks seemed to put more stock in the point they gained in a 2-1 overtime loss to the Bruins on Sunday night at SAP Center, rather than the one they left on the table.

They have that luxury. 

The Sharks will enter their bye week five points ahead of Edmonton and Anaheim for first place in the Pacific Division, and figure they’re due for some time off after a short summer followed by a World Cup for some, and a brutal condensed NHL schedule for all.

“[We’ve] showed up and played hard,” Joe Pavelski said. “We’ve been in a lot of games. Games we’ve lost, we’ve battled. There hasn’t been any cheat in [our] game. Defensively, we’ve been strong. There’s a lot of good areas in our game that we like right now.”

Playing in the second of a back-to-back against a Bruins team had was coming off of its own bye week, the Sharks fell behind 1-0 on a first period goal by Ryan Spooner, but notched a Patrick Marleau equalizer in a second period in which they outshot the Bruins 16-9. An evenly played third period gave way to overtime, where Brad Marchand scored on a breakaway to give the Bruins their fourth straight win since changing head coaches.

The Sharks spoke before the weekend about finishing the final two games strong before the respite. They ended up gaining three of four points, including Saturday’s 4-1 win in Arizona, and were pleased with their effort against the Bruins as they capped off 10 games in 20 days since the All-Star break.

“It was an important push into this break,” Pete DeBoer said. “To go in up [five points] on the next closest team is a real testament to our group.”

Paul Martin said: “I thought we played pretty well, considering the back-to-back with some travel, and a team that was waiting for us.”

Perhaps the most encouraging performance came from Martin Jones, who was one of a number of Sharks players that was looking particularly fatigued lately. The goaltender entered the game with a 1-0-2 record, 4.46 goals-against average and .837 save percentage in his last four starts, including getting pulled after the first period in Boston just 10 days ago.

Jones was impressive, though, making a vital pad stop on the dangerous David Pastrnak in front of the net midway through the third period to keep it a 1-1 score.

“It was a good game. Two teams playing hard,” Jones said. “We can take a lot of positives from that one. It was a good hard game, just didn’t go our way tonight.”

Overtimes have been an issue lately, though. The Sharks have lost their last four games decided during the three-on-three, all coming within the last two weeks. As satisfied as they are with their cushion in the division, it could have been cushier.

Against the Bruins, Tuukka Rask denied Brent Burns on a two-on-one in overtime, and Marchand scored off of the ensuing faceoff, blowing the zone past Pavelski and Marc-Edouard Vlasic and corralling a long toss from Torey Krug before sliding it home.

“We get to overtime, shootouts – we expect to get that extra point,” Pavelski said. “We haven’t found it lately. We’ll just keep looking for it.”

DeBoer said: “The points are critical, they’re valuable. I don’t read a lot into [overtime decisions], we’ve won our share over the time I’ve been here. We had a chance to win tonight, too. … I concentrate on the effort, and I thought we got better as the game went on.”

Being focused and energized, as they have been most of the season to this point, shouldn’t be a problem when the season resumes next Saturday in Vancouver. The Sharks are in prime position to win their first division title since 2010-11, and a return trip to the Stanley Cup Final is a distinct possibility.

Losing six of eight won’t be nearly as acceptable coming out of the break as it apparently is going into it, but that’s not something to worry about now, even after another defeat. 

“There are some games you wish you could get back and get those points, but we’re still in a good spot,” Marleau said.

Instant Replay: Bruins score in overtime, send Sharks to the break with a loss

sharks-lose-bruins.jpg
USATSI

Instant Replay: Bruins score in overtime, send Sharks to the break with a loss

BOX SCORE

SAN JOSE – The Boston Bruins skated past the San Jose Sharks on Sunday at SAP Center, 2-1 in overtime.

Brad Marchand’s breakaway goal after the Bruins won a defensive zone faceoff gave Boston the win, as Torey Krug found the forward charging towards the San Jose net. Marchand slipped the puck through Martin Jones’ five hole at 2:36.

San Jose has dropped its last four games decided in the three-on-three.

The Sharks lost for the sixth time in their last eight games (2-1-5), headed into the bye week. They will not play or practice from Monday through Friday, and resume their season on Saturday in Vancouver.

Boston extended its winning streak to four games since firing Claude Julien and naming Bruce Cassidy the interim head coach. The streak began with a 6-3 win over the Sharks at TD Garden on Feb. 9.

The Bruins were just the fourth team of 20 to win the first game after their bye week (4-12-4).

Boston scored the only goal in the first period, while the Sharks answered with a second period tally.

Ryan Spooner’s marker at 11:05 of the opening frame put Boston ahead. An Adam McQuaid point shot found Jimmy Hayes in the slot, and after Hayes fired wide of the net, Spooner tucked in the loose puck.

San Jose turned up the pressure late in the second, finally resulting in a goal by Patrick Marleau. During a four-on-four situation, Brent Burns’ wrist shot deflected right to Marleau’s tape, and he easily flipped in his 502nd career goal at 17:37.

Sharks coach Pete DeBoer shortened his bench for the third period, leaving Mikkel Boedker and Nikolay Goldobin planted on the pine. Melker Karlsson took Boedker’s place on the second line, while Chris Tierney skated on the third line with Tomas Hertl and Joel Ward.

The Sharks are 6-3-1 in the second half of back-to-backs.

Special teams

Each team had just one power play in the game, failing to convert.

The Sharks are 3-for-24 on the power play over their last eight games (12.5 percent), but a perfect 8-for-8 on the PK in their last five.

In goal

Jones was facing the Bruins just 10 days after he was pulled to start the second period in Boston when he allowed three goals on 12 shots. He allowed two goals on 27 shots.

Tuukka Rask made 29 saves for the win.

Lineup

The Sharks’ lineup was unchanged from Saturday’s win in Arizona, other than the goaltender. Goldobin played in his second game of the season.

Joe Thornton remains two assists away from 1000 in his career. His five-game point streak came to an end.

Burns had 20 shot attempts, including seven on net.

Up next

Saturday’s game in Vancouver begins a stretch where the Sharks will play their final 22 games over a 43-day span. On Feb. 2, they won the first of five meetings with the Canucks, 4-1 at Rogers Arena.

Vancouver, which hosted Philadelphia on Sunday, also has its bye week from Feb. 20-24.