Should Niemi start every game?

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Should Niemi start every game?

PHOENIX Sharks goalie Antti Niemi will make his sixth straight start in net on Saturday night against the Coyotes, and there should be many more to come for the 28-year-old Finland native.

Its become clear in Niemis two seasons with the Sharks and his final year with Chicago, which ended with a Stanley Cup in 2010 that Niemi plays better the more often hes in the crease. And the Sharks certainly need him at his best as they battle to make it into the postseason tournament.

Although his numbers arent glowing, as hes just 6-10-3 with a 2.73 goals-against average and .904 save percentage in his last 20 starts, Niemi has been better of late. Hes not the reason the Sharks have lost four of their last five games, all started by Niemi, who has a 1.76 GAA and .935 SP over that span including a shutout of the Philadelphia Flyers in the Sharks last win on Feb. 28.
RELATED: Antti Niemi stats splits game logs

It wouldnt be shocking to see him play both ends of the back-to-back in Edmonton on Monday and Calgary Tuesday. And maybe even the remaining 15 games after the tilt with the Coyotes.

I think weve proven that point again. In the phase where we had that real long travel trip and had the three back-to-backs, and he didnt play as often," Todd McLellan said. "It was probably his weakest point during the season."

The head coach is referring to Niemis struggles on the teams nine-game road trip in late February, which featured three separate back-to-backs. Niemi was pulled in the first period in two of the final three games of that trip, in which San Jose stumbled to a 2-6-1 record. Backup Thomas Greiss started in two of the first four of those games, spelling Niemi after the goaltender played the night before.

Niemi started 34 consecutive games from Jan. 15 to April 4 last year, going 25-4-4 with a 2.05 goals-against average and a .929 save percentage.

The year he helped the Blackhawks to the Stanley Cup, Niemi played in each of the last 13 games in the regular season, starting 12 of them. He finished off the year with a 6-0-1 mark in his final seven starts, before starting each of the Blackhawks 22 playoff games during their championship run.

When this guy plays a lot, he plays better. We could play him 82 games and hed probably be fine," McLellan said. "But, he does need a rest."

Does he?

Ward's sacrifice keys 'bounce-back' game for Sharks

Ward's sacrifice keys 'bounce-back' game for Sharks

SAN JOSE – Joel Ward has been in the league long enough to know that the Sharks got outworked and outhustled in their decisive loss to the Blues on Saturday.

That could be why he put his body on the line in the second period against the Jets on Monday afternoon at SAP Center. Ward hustled to a loose puck along the wall with the Sharks holding a slim 1-0 lead and slipped it ahead to Chris Tierney, before getting absolutely plastered by Mark Stuart on a hit as big as you’ll see in today’s NHL.

While Ward was sluggish to get up as a result of his head bouncing off the ice surface, Tierney gave it to Timo Meier, who finished off a breakaway goal early in the second period.

While he was seeing stars from what he called a “clean hit,” Ward also heard the goal horn.

“I tried to get the puck out, obviously, and next thing I knew I was on my back and heard the horn go off,” he said. “I wasn’t too sure what happened after that.”

What happened was a 5-2 Sharks win, two days after one of their worst performances of the season, a 4-0 home defeat to St. Louis. San Jose withstood an early push by the visiting Jets but took over the game in the second period, particularly after Ward’s sacrifice.

"That's the commitment we talk about,” Pete DeBoer said. “Taking that hit, making that play, [Meier] scores the goal. We need that. Joel's a guy that brings that to the rink almost every night. That's what it's going to take at this time of year in order to have success."

In a rare afternoon start, the Sharks looked sleepy in the beginning. The Jets were the better team for the first few minutes, but Martin Jones made sure they didn’t get on the board. He made a key stop on a Shawn Matthias one-timer just 1:29 into the first period, and then bailed out David Schlemko on a defensive zone turnover a few minutes later, again denying Matthias.

The Sharks went to the penalty kill after Schlemko’s cross-checking minor at 11:39, but Ward scored 15 seconds after that, picking the corner over Michael Hutchinson for a pretty shorthanded marker. He correctly read a Justin Braun clearing attempt, when Braun rimmed it past Dustin Byfuglien, who couldn’t keep it in at the blue line. 

After that, “just kind of saw glove side and fired it there as quick as I could,” Ward said.

That led to a dominant second period for San Jose. Along with Meier’s goal, Brent Burns scored on a power play and the slumping Jets were noticeably deflated from there.

Jones said the Jets “came out real hard,” but, “that’s pretty much all [my teammates] needed from me today. You can’t really ask for much more than that from the guys. They put up five, and slowed down a pretty fast team.”

Tierney said: “Joner did a great job of keeping us in it and not giving up a goal there and putting us behind. After that, we kind of got it going a bit and started playing our game.”

There was even some late comedy. Trailing 4-1 at the time, Jets coach Paul Maurice decided to take Hutchinson out for an extra attacker. Jones noticed the empty net and was lining up a shot after he retrieved a dump-in. It didn’t go more than a foot in front of him, though, as Mark Scheifele blocked it and slipped it into an empty net.

Jones could be seen grinning through his mask, while Tierney said he was “laughing on the bench.”

“That’s the first time I’ve tried [shooting at an empty net], and probably the last, too,” Jones said.

In total, Monday's result offered quite the change in mood from Saturday’s whipping.

DeBoer said: “I don't think anyone in our room was happy with how last game went. It was a good bounce-back game."

“It was definitely good today to rebound, and get back to winning,” Ward said.

Instant Replay: Sharks offense comes to life, ground Jets 5-2

Instant Replay: Sharks offense comes to life, ground Jets 5-2

BOX SCORE

SAN JOSE – Joel Ward had a goal and an assist, and survived a thundering hit in the second period, in helping the Sharks to a 5-2 win over Winnipeg on Monday afternoon at SAP Center.

Ward’s linemates Chris Tierney and Timo Meier also had a goal and assist each, as the Sharks snapped their modest two-game losing streak. Martin Jones made 26 saves in net.

Winnipeg lost its fourth in a row (0-3-1), getting swept on a three-game trip through California.

Leading 1-0 on Ward’s first period shorthanded score, San Jose took control in the middle frame.

Meier’s breakaway goal at 2:45 upped the lead to 2-0. Prior to the conversion, Ward was plowed by Winnipeg’s Mark Stuart at the defensive blue line, but managed to push the puck to Tierney in the neutral zone. Tierney’s lead pass found Meier streaking in, and the rookie deposited his first goal in 13 games and first since his NHL debut on Dec. 16 in Montreal.

Ward went to the dressing room, likely to be checked for a concussion after his head hit the ice, but returned later in the period.

Brent Burns’ power play goal gave the Sharks a three-goal cushion, when his shot went wide but rebounded off of the end boards and off of the back of goalie Michael Hutchinson’s skate at 7:08.

San Jose continued to press for the much of the remaining 13 minutes of the second period, outshooting the Jets 15-4.

Tierney added insurance with a wrist shot from the circle at 11:41 of the third, finding the puck after a Meier shot was blocked. It was his first in 14 games, and gave the Sharks a 4-0 lead.

Josh Morrissey’s goal at 17:24 ruined the shutout for Jones. Mark Scheifele scored with 15 seconds left to make it 4-2, after Jones blocked what looked like an attempt to shoot the puck into an empty net. An empty net goal by Joe Thornton capped the scoring.

After Winnipeg looked more assertive than San Jose in the opening minutes, Ward staked the Sharks the first period lead when his wrist shot found the top far corner at 11:54 of the first period. It was his fourth of the season, two of which have come shorthanded.

The Sharks have claimed both of their afternoon games this season, including a 3-2 win over the Islanders on Nov. 25.

San Jose visits Winnipeg on Jan. 24 and March 6, both of which will the second of a back-to-back for the visitors.

Special teams

The Sharks finished 1-for-4 on the power play, just their second such goal in the past seven games (2-for-17). The penalty kill was a perfect 2-for-2, coming on consecutive penalties to David Schlemko and Tierney just one minute and 45 seconds apart.

Ward’s shorthanded goal was the Sharks’ third of the season, two of which have come from the veteran forward.

Tierney’s high-sticking minor in the first period was his first penalty of the season in 44 games.

In goal

Jones made his biggest stop just a minute and a half into the game, swallowing a Shawn Matthias one-timer from the slot on a setup by Dustin Byfuglien. He denied Matthias a second time with 11:18 to go, just before Ward’s shorty.

Hutchinson took the loss with four goals allowed on 31 shots.

Lineup

The Sharks missed Joonas Donskoi for the second straight game with an upper body injury, although it doesn’t appear to be serious.

Winnipeg remains without rookie Patrick Laine, who began the day tied for the NHL rookie lead in goals (21) and points (37), due to a concussion suffered on Jan. 7.

San Jose reassigned defenseman Tim Heed and forward Ryan Carpenter to the Barracuda, presumably to play in their game later Monday night.

Up next

The Sharks close out their season series with the Kings on Wednesday night at Staples Center. San Jose won the first two, but Los Angeles swept a home-and-home on Dec. 31 and Jan. 3, the latter of which came in overtime in Southern California.