Monday, February 7, 2011

Niemi Heating Up In Net

The San Jose Sharks have been on fire as of late. They have won 7 of 8 games and are riding an 8-game point streak dating back to before the All-Star break. You can attribute the success of the team to many things, maybe the spark of the recent additions of Ben Eager and Kyle Wellwood, maybe the relentless play of Logan Couture, or maybe it's the recent fire that has been lit from under the defensemen of the Sharks. But I will give the credit to goalie Antti Niemi. Not because he has been incredibly unstoppable in net, because he hasn't, but because of his consistent play between the pipes. That is holding the opponent to less than 3 goals a game.

Finally some consistency!

It's been a rough year for goalies of the San Jose Sharks, production-wise that is. Before the season, the answer to the question "Who is the #1 goalie?" was the same no matter who you asked. It was simple. The Sharks have two goalies, Antero Niittymaki and Antti Niemi. Both are similar in talent. Both will share the load. There is no #1 goalie. Shoot me.

Sure, it satisfied the Sharks fans in the beginning. But everyone knew that as the season wore on there would be one goalie of the two that would emerge as the #1. It was a given. Wrong.

Today, with just under 30 games left in the season, the answer is still the same. The Sharks still have two #1 goalies.

Now, Niittymaki has been injured since before the All-Star break, but coach Todd McClellan still stands behind his reasoning that if Niittymaki were available to play, then he and Niemi would continue to split time. Done deal. There's no swaying him either way. But I have got to believe that when Niittymaki comes back from injury, he will be sitting #2 on the goalie depth chart. Whether McClellan says it or not.

It's obvious, this injury to Niitymaki couldn't have come at a better time. It forced the Sharks to go with one goalie, Niemi. Since then, Niemi hasn't been incredibly hot in net, but he has been consistent. Over these last few games, though, I would beg to differ that Niemi is at least simmering on the idea of getting hot, at just the right time, may I add.

He's notorious for this. Okay, maybe not notorious, but he was the reason for the Chicago Blackhawks winning the Stanley Cup last season. Well, that and their smoking offense mixed with a shut-down defense, but that's beside the point.

In his short career so far, Niemi has a knack for becoming hot at the right moment. Last year, he became hot in the playoffs after talk the whole season was about how the Blackhawks don't have a go-to guy in goal. He was incredible, and from a Sharks perspective...that sucks!

Now, the Sharks need a run to make the playoffs. Low and behold, Niemi seems poised for the run in net.

There's no doubt, the Sharks will go only as far as their goalie will take them, whether it is Niemi or Niittymaki once he comes back. If the Sharks were smart, they would go with who gives them the better chance, whoever is hot at the right moment. Niemi has made his point by taking the Sharks on an 8-game point streak and playing the best hockey of the year. Convinced Todd McClellan?

The Sharks will have a decision to make when Niittymaki comes back in about a week. But at this point in the season, one go-to goalie may be better than two. Niemi has proved it.

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