Sharks' Niemi isn't sure if he'll start Game 1

Apr 15, 6:32 PM

San Jose Sharks workhorse Antti Niemi isn't sure if he'll be starting in goal on Thursday, when the Sharks kick off their first round series against the Los Angeles Kings. Uncertainty aside, however, Niemi is approaching this year's postseason the way he'd approach it if he were San Jose's surefire starter.

"Either way, you've got to prepare yourself to be ready to play," Niemi told CSN's Kevin Kurz on Tuesday. "So, I do anything I would (normally do). Just like in the season. They don't always tell us early, but you just keep yourself ready and [prepare] on the ice like you were playing, even if you weren't."

The veteran Finnish keeper is eager to hear from coach Todd McLellan about the decision, and expects it to come down Wednesday. "I hope so. There have been times that the goalies texted each other the night before. Like, 'Did they tell you? They didn't tell me.'"

Niemi has started every Sharks playoff game since arriving in San Jose in the summer of 2010. While Niemi posted average save percentage numbers while holding down a much heavier workload, backup netminder Alex Stalock outperformed Niemi all season long. 

Niemi also struggled enormously in the past few weeks of the season, stopping fewer than .900 percent of the shots he faced in his last seven appearances.

Feature photo courtesy of USA TODAY Sports/ Ed Szczepanski

Apr 30, 1:45 PM

Sharks go back to Niemi for Game 7 vs. Kings

Apr 30, 1:45 PM

The San Jose Sharks haven't "officially" announced their Game 7 starter, however, if team captain Joe Thornton is to be believed, Sharks coach Todd McLellan has decided to go back to the veteran starter he probably should've stuck with - Antti Niemi.

Thornton apparently didn't intend to reveal the identity of the Sharks' Game 7 starter:

"Nemo has got some rest and is going to be ready for tonight," the Sharks captain said, according to the Sharks' official Twitter account. Seems Thornton hasn't learned his lesson about casually talking to reporters in the dressing room, although thankfully this time the subject wasn't goal celebrations. 

Niemi has since been officially confirmed as San Jose's Game 7 starter. 

Feature photo courtesy of Reuters/Kirby Lee

Apr 28, 3:05 PM

Sharks' Alex Stalock to start Game 6

Apr 28, 3:05 PM

Going into Monday night's critical sixth game of their opening round Stanley Cup playoff series against the Los Angeles Kings, the San Jose Sharks are on the brink of blowing a 3-0 series lead, allowing the Kings to force a seventh and decisive game. 

The shaky goaltending of Antti Niemi has been a story all series, but that won't be a factor in Game 6 - because the Sharks have decided to start backup Alex Stalock in Niemi's stead. 

Stalock was impenetrable in limited action this season for San Jose, and there's also an interesting collective bargaining agreement wrinkle in his getting the start. Stalock is on the verge of becoming a Group 6 unrestricted free-agent, but if he wins Game 6 and runs with the starters job for a small handful of games, then the Sharks will retain his rights as a restricted free-agent this summer (should they qualify Stalock, of course). 

Feature photo courtesy of USA TODAY Sports/Cary Edmondson

Apr 28, 9:37 AM

Sharks coach Todd McLellan on Game 6 starter: 'We've got to think about that and decide'

Apr 28, 9:37 AM

It's a fascinating dilemma: should the San Jose Sharks go back to struggling veteran Antti Niemi in net for Game 6 of their Stanley Cup playoff series against the Los Angeles Kings on Monday? Or will Sharks coaches tap promising rookie Alex Stalock instead, in an effort to staunch the bleeding?

Sharks coach Todd McLellan wasn't tipping his hand one way or the other on Sunday. "We've got to think about that and decide," McLellan told reporters, per the Mercury News

The Sharks have lost two games in a row to Los Angeles since taking what was once a commanding 3-0 lead in their opening round series, and have allowed nine goals against in those two games. Niemi meanwhile was pulled in both contests, and the Kings have taken advantage of his relatively weak blocker side

Niemi had something of a down year overall and is sporting a .888 save percentage in the postseason. That isn't going to get it done against a heavyweight like the Kings.

Stalock outperformed San Jose's workhorse starter in the regular season, and has stopped all 26 shots he's faced in relief of Niemi in this series. So, could Niemi start a playoff game on the bench for the first time in his Sharks tenure on Monday?

Feature photo courtesy of USA TODAY Sports/Cary Edmondson

Apr 17, 2:24 PM

Sharks' Niemi will start Game 1 Thursday vs. Kings

Apr 17, 2:24 PM

The San Jose Sharks will turn to goaltender Antti Niemi for Game 1 Thursday against the Los Angeles Kings, as per Kevin Kurz of CSNBayArea.com.

Head coach Todd McLellan had been explicitly vague about who the team's starter would be for the playoff opener - perhaps in an attempt to throw off the opposition - but it makes sense for the Sharks to turn to the more experienced Niemi. 

A Stanley Cup Champion with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010, Niemi has posted a career postseason save percentage of .909, while going 7-4 with a .930 save percentage during the 2013 playoffs.

Rookie goaltender Alex Stalock will serve as the backup, waiting in the wings should Niemi falter.

Feature photo courtesy of USA TODAY Sports/Kelley L Cox

Apr 14, 5:44 PM

Sharks coach Todd McLellan refuses to reveal his playoff starter

Apr 14, 5:44 PM

The San Jose Sharks have leaned heavily on workhorse starter and Finnish Olympian Antti Niemi over the years. Niemi has appeared in over 60 regular season games for the Sharks in each of the past four seasons, and has started every Sharks playoff game since he joined the team in the summer of 2010.

So it seems odd that Sharks head coach Todd McLellan would refuse to publicly disclose the identity of his starting netminder, but that's what occurred on Monday. From David Pollak of the Mercury News:

McLellan still held off on naming his goalie for Game 1. Yes, a decision has been made, he said. No, he won’t disclose it.

We asked if the goalie knows at this point.

McLellan, shaking head: “You guys are going to run in there and interrogate him.”

Well, he could swear the goalie to secrecy, right?

McLellan: “Maybe we’ll double cross you too. Who knows.”

Niemi had a bit of a down year this past season. While the Finnish Olympian started the bulk of San Jose's games, he managed roughly average numbers both overall (he posted a .913 save percentage), and at even-strength (he posted a .919 even-strength save percentage). Niemi's backup Alex Stalock started less often, but stopped a much higher percentage of the pucks shot his way (.932 overall, .940 at even-strength).

In the latter part of the season, Niemi struggled enormously while Stalock shined. In the last 10 games of the season Niemi posted an .897 even-strength save percentage in seven appearances, while Stalock managed a stratospheric .948 even-strength save percentage in four appearances. 

It would appear that McLellan and the Sharks have a quandary on their hands. Do they go with the hot hand in the talented but inexperienced Stalock, or stick with Niemi, their workhorse veteran with the Stanley Cup ring?

Feature photo courtesy of USA TODAY Sports/Bruce Fedyck