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.
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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."