Anaheim Ducks v San Jose Sharks

Antti Niemi to start against Blackhawks tonight – Awkward?

Tonight in San Jose, the Sharks take on the Chicago Blackhawks for the first time since Chicago knocked San Jose out of the Western Conference finals. Since then, plenty has changed for both teams but the one thing that unites the two teams is goalie Antti Niemi. Last year, it was Niemi playing strong in goal for Chicago and leading them to their first Stanley Cup since the 1960s.

Once the off-season began, things changed in a big way for everyone involved. Now, Niemi is the part-time starter for the San Jose Sharks after being let go by Chicago during their tumultuous salary cap hell off-season. Instead of Niemi suiting up for Chicago and trying to win back-to-back Cups, it’s Marty Turco’s job to lead the Blackhawks.

If you think Antti Niemi isn’t excited about facing off against the team that he helped win hockey’s ultimate prize and then walked away from him, you’d be fooling yourself. David Pollak of Working the Corners gets the scoop from the Finnish netminder.

“Of course I was really excited,” Niemi said. “It doesn’t really matter who we’re playing against, I want to play. I felt pretty good when they told  me I would play.”

He said it was the first time he’ll be facing a team he once played on and was asked if he saw this game as closure on his time with the Blackhawks.

“It feels funny playing against your old teammates, but it’s part of the process,” Niemi said. “It’s one more part of  closure on last year.”

Closure for sure but with guys like Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, and Patrick Kane still roaming the ice for Chicago you have to wonder if they know of any weaknesses on Niemi. CSN Chicago’s Tracey Myers finds out Kane knows just where to shoot.

“I’m not going to tell you guys, but I think I know what I’ll shoot,” Patrick Kane said of his shot selection. But Kane knows facing Niemi won’t be easy.

“He has unbelievable lateral movement. If you move him side to side have to pick it up. He’s one of the best I’ve ever seen with that. He did a lot of good things for us.”

While all that is going on down on the ice, you have to wonder if the teams general managers will have a chat at all. After all, Sharks GM Doug Wilson signed Niemi and also tried to sign away Niklas Hjalmarsson as well this off-season. Chicago matched an offer sheet the Sharks signed Hjalmarsson to, a signing that put the screws to Chicago GM Stan Bowman to eventually walk away from Niemi’s arbitration decision because it was too costly.

The biggest thing for San Jose starting Niemi is trying to get him right. While Antero Niittymaki has been solid for the Sharks, Niemi’s been a bit of a letdown. In seven games this year, Niemi’s save percentage is a paltry .878 while his goals against average is 3.91. Getting Niemi a motivated start against his former team might be the spark he needs to get things turned around lest Niittymaki be forced into a role as the team’s full-time starter.

Lonnie Cameron, hockey-tough linesman, shakes off puck to head (Video)

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Talking about hockey toughness is pretty much a trope at this point, yet there are still moments that impress even the cynical among us.

Linesman Lonnie Cameron accomplished that for many on Tuesday, as he returned to the Nashville Predators – Vancouver Canucks game despite taking a puck to the head in a scary moment.

Judging by the Twitter feed of Brooks Bratten from the Predators’ website, Cameron missed mere minutes of time.

So, yeah, it seems like Cameron qualifies as “hockey tough.”

As far as the game itself went, the Canucks beat the Predators 1-0 thanks to Henrik Sedin‘s goal (his 999th point) and Ryan Miller‘s 30-save shutout.

Is this more than just a slump for Henrik Lundqvist?

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People have been wondering for years if Henrik Lundqvist would finally fall off track and, you know, look human. After the New York Rangers’ zany 7-6 loss to the Dallas Stars, those rumblings are probably getting a little louder.

Don’t expect the Rangers to throw their star goalie under the bus, though, especially after a wide-open game like Tuesday’s goal-filled game at Madison Square Garden.

In fact, Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault is already penciling Lundqvist in for Thursday’s game against the rising Toronto Maple Leafs.

“He’s going to play, he’s going to try real hard, and we’re going to try to play better in front of him,” Vigneault said, according to the New York Post’s Brett Cyrgalis. “This is a team.”

Lundqvist, meanwhile, said about what you’d expect:

Naturally, Lundqvist and plenty of other Rangers threw the word embarrassing around quite a bit to describe this game, or at least the first 40 minutes. It’s just that no one’s really raking Lundqvist over the coals.

Is this time different?

Again, Lundqvist is no stranger to struggles, even if he struggles less often than just about any franchise goalie in recent memory.

Still, the sample size is getting large enough for this stretch to be a concern for the 34-year-old netminder.

While goal support and stretches of good play open the door for a respectable 18-12-1 record, Lundqvist’s allowing almost three goals per game (2.89 GAA) and has a backup-level .902 save percentage this season. And that’s over 32 games.

Things get even uglier if you focus on more recent events.

He’s allowed 20 goals in his past four starts, including allowing 12 tallies over four periods during the past two games. Lundqvist has a putrid .841 save percentage in January after producing great work in November (.925 save percenate in 11 games) and nice numbers in December (.915 in eight games).

Lundqvist has given up four goals or more on nine different occasions since Nov. 23.

In other words, there are a lot of different ways in which he’s struggling:

Is this a matter of Lundqvist regaining his focus or is “The King” finally abdicating his throne?

The Rangers are going to let him try to work through this. Otherwise, they might just need to hope that this is an off-year and *gulp* at least consider how far (an eventually healthy?) Antti Raanta could take them.

Supporting cast rallies Blackhawks in win against Avalanche

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For much of the season, the Colorado Avalanche’s biggest names have let them down while many believe that the Chicago Blackhawks are getting it done despite a mediocre supporting cast.

On Tuesday, the script was essentially flipped. The Avs’ stars were productive, yet so were lesser-known Chicago forwards like Tanner Kero and Vinne Hinostroza.

The most important narrative stayed the same, however, as the Blackhawks found a way to get by the Avalanche in a 6-4 decision.

The Blackhawks took a 2-1 lead into the second period, but the Avs put together one of their best stretches of this lousy season. Blake Comeau tied it up, Matt Nieto scored his first goal with Colorado and then Matt Duchene answered Chicago’s only goal of the second period (by Kero) to give the Avalanche a 4-3 edge.

The Avalanche doubled Chicago’s shots on goal in the second period, generating an 8-4 edge. It felt like a rare moment where Colorado’s talent actually flexed its collective muscles.

Then the Blackhawks turned it on in the third, generating a 12-5 shot edge of their own and finding a way to win.

Hinostroza ended up making the biggest difference, scoring the tying and game-winning goals before Kero iced it with an empty-netter thanks to an unselfish pass by Jonathan Toews.

(It’s not to say that Chicago’s big names outright slept through this game, either. Toews got that assist and Marian Hossa made a bunch of plays to help make life easier for Hinostroza and Kero.)

This wasn’t always pretty, but the Blackhawks are doing enough to get points night after night. On some nights, that’s the real difference between a contender like Chicago and a languishing squad like Colorado.

Blue Jackets move back to first in Metro, NHL after beating Hurricanes

COLUMBUS, OH - JANUARY 7:  Sergei Bobrovsky #72 of the Columbus Blue Jackets warms up prior to the start of the game against the New York Rangers on January 7, 2017 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)
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After stumbling for a bit, Tuesday was a reassuring night for the Columbus Blue Jackets.

With a 4-1 win against the Carolina Hurricanes, Columbus moved back to the top of the Metropolitan Division (and thus, the NHL) because they now match the Washington Capitals’ 64 points but have more wins (30 to 29) and hold a game in hand.

Also comforting for Columbus: Sergei Bobrovsky returned to the Blue Jackets net, allowing one goal on 25 shots.

They were probably also happy to see Brandon Dubinsky enjoy a strong night (two goals) and Boone Jenner collect an assist and this absolute beauty of a goal:

The Hurricanes actually did hold a 1-0 lead in this game, but it lasted all of 11 seconds, as that Jenner goal erased that advantage.

The Blue Jackets face the Senators in Columbus on Thursday and then host the Hurricanes once again on Saturday. They follow that up with five straight road games and six of seven away from home beginning on Jan. 22. Columbus will pass another big test if they can stick with the Capitals and the rest of the NHL’s best through that stretch.