Sharks notes: Niemi enjoying heavy workload

Sharks notes: Niemi enjoying heavy workload
March 28, 2013, 1:15 pm
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Antti Niemi is 14-8-5 this year with a .922 save percentage and 2.21 goals against average. (USA TODAY IMAGES)

SAN JOSE – He’s set to make his 21st start in the last 22 games, but Sharks goalie Antti Niemi is feeling just fine for the second game of a back-to-back on Thursday at home against the Red Wings.

A 22-save shutout the night before helps.

“When the first game goes pretty good, I think it’s pretty easy to go to the second game,” Niemi said after a team meeting on Thursday morning. “Just keep on doing what I did last night.”

[RECAP: Sharks 4, Ducks 0]

Niemi’s numbers have fallen off a bit since the start of March, when he was being mentioned as a potential candidate for the Vezina Trophy as the league’s best goaltender. In his last 10 starts, Niemi has allowed at least three goals in eight of them.

His performance against the Ducks on Wednesday, though, was his third win in the last four games. He’s allowed eight goals on 100 shots over that span (.920 save percentage), and is 14-8-5 with a 2.22 goals-against average and .922 save percentage in 28 games this season.

“His play, in combination with our D-men’s play, has spruced up a little bit lately,” Todd McLellan said. “Fewer rebounds and more clears from our defensemen, and less time in and around our net. It all goes hand-in-hand.

“Nemo is human. He’s like the 20 other players, they’re going to have some ups and some downs, it’s just that he’s in that net for 60 full minutes and has 60 responsible minutes to answer for.”

Niemi got a franchise record 30 blocked shots in front of him in Wednesday’s 4-0 win over Anaheim.

“In the second period, [the Ducks] had the puck in our zone for a couple longer periods, but I think we did a great job blocking shots and being in tight at the net.”

That Niemi enjoys a heavy workload is something he’s made known time after time since his arrival in San Jose in 2010.

“It’s mentally easy to keep playing and not worrying about anything else,” Niemi said. “I think it’s about trusting everything else – the training, and how to stay fresh.”

McLellan said: “He’s a hockey player. There’s not a guy in there that doesn’t want to play three more minutes than he did last night. Everybody wants to dress, and that’s a really good thing. Nemo is no different. He wants the net every night.”

Thomas Greiss remains on injured reserve, so Alex Stalock continues to be Niemi’s backup.

Sharks opting for rest

The Sharks enjoyed a day off on Tuesday, and will get another on Friday. That’s in addition to a pair of travel days on the recent road trip in which the Sharks flew to their destination city but opted not to skate upon arrival.

That rest has paid off, according to Joe Pavelski, who has goals in each of the last two games.

“I think it’s good. We were pressing, and guys were frustrated at times. Sometimes just taking a step back, and getting some sun or doing whatever you have to do, coming back and being excited when you get the rink helps once in awhile,” he said.

“Any time you get a day off it’s welcome, especially in a short season like this, but you have to play hard and show you can be responsible with it and come ready to play. Guys have responded well with it.”

McLellan focused on hard working practices in training camp and early in the season, but suggested now is the time to ease up on the workload on non-game days.

“We’re in the grind right now. In a real season, we’d be at Christmas break. I know how it feels at that time of year where guys are starting to look forward to three or four days of just putting their feet up,” McLellan said.

“As long as they empty the tanks on the rink during the games, we can do a lot of video and pull individuals in. I think you’ll see that from now until the end of the year, with a lot of teams.”

Stuart on Iginla deal

Brad Stuart spent half of one season playing with Jarome Iginla in Calgary in 2007, and gave his reaction to the blockbuster deal that sent the future Hall of Famer to the Pittsburgh Penguins late Wednesday night:

“When your team is struggling they want to kind of look to the future to rebuild. He had the choice, and I guess probably another factor in that is he hasn’t won a Cup yet. He’s come close, and he wants to win. Those things combined probably factored in his decision. Obviously, I don’t know, but he wants to have a chance to win and he has a pretty good one now that the move has been made.”