Sharks Mailbag: Should Niemi get another breather?

Sharks Mailbag: Should Niemi get another breather?
November 4, 2013, 9:30 am
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Sharks goalie Antti Niemi is currently leading the league with more than 795 minutes played. (AP)

Programming note: Sabres-Sharks coverage gets underway Tuesday at 7 p.m. with Sharks Pregame Live on Comcast SportsNet California

The Sharks are back on the ice for practice on Monday morning after a day off. Time for a few mailbag questions before heading to the rink…

Hey @KKurzCSN what are the chances that Burns returns to the lineup tomorrow? (@DailyFaceoff)
Slim to none. Even if Brent Burns returns to practice early this week, it will take him some time to get back into game shape. He hasn’t played since Oct. 19 against Calgary, and, upper body injury aside, it will take him some time to get his legs back underneath him before he can play.

Burns declined to speak with reporters on Friday, so we’re still in the dark a bit in terms of his recovery. What we do know is that he’s been on the ice, skating by himself while wearing a helmet and no pads, and that general manager Doug Wilson has vaguely said Burns is "not expected to be out long-term.”

This stat has been mentioned a number of times, but bears repeating – since the start of the 2013 season, when Burns is in as a forward, the Sharks are 20-9-2 with 3.26 goals-per game. When he’s out, or playing defense, San Jose is just 15-8-8 with 2.19 goals-per game.

Two Questions. Should Stalock start vs. Buffalo? Your biggest takeaway from the past two losses? (@Condor_McMahon)
I was thinking in the press box on Saturday night that it wouldn’t be a bad idea to start Al Stalock against the Sabres. Niemi uncharacteristically allowed a few bad goals to the Coyotes in the 3-2 shootout loss, and his workload has been well documented – he’s currently leading the league with more than 795 minutes. Does he need another breather? Maybe.

The Sabres are a bad team, and the Sharks should be able to beat them no matter who is in goal. Stalock looked good in his one and only appearance in Ottawa last Sunday with 38 saves, and getting him back in the net relatively quickly against the league's last place club could help to further build his confidence.

As for my biggest takeaways from the last two losses, and really, the last two weeks in general – Joe Thornton and Tomas Hertl still really miss Burns on their line (see above stat), and Dan Boyle’s presence is vitally important to that top power play unit, which was outstanding on Saturday.

How long will Martin Havlat get to find his game? (@RoneFace)
As many of you know I’ve been as hard on Marty Havlat as anyone. But, you can’t judge a guy who hasn’t played a full 60 minutes since late April after just two games. I actually thought Havlat looked a bit more willing to get involved physically against Los Angeles, and he did have some good looks at the net against the Coyotes on Saturday (he finished with three shots and two more attempts blocked). He could also give a boost to the second power play unit.

Still, there was more evidence he has to change his game in order to be an effective player in the Sharks’ system. I thought Havlat had a tendency to get a little too cute with the puck against the Coyotes, and on a couple occasions, he pulled up with the puck high in the zone instead of driving it deep. That will have to change.

When healthy, the Sharks have a strong contingent of wingers. Havlat, like many others, will have to continually earn his place in the nighty lineup.