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.

Cold for Clutterbuck? Illness sidelines Isles’ heavy-hitter

New York Islanders right wing Cal Clutterbuck (15) goes flying after tripping over Edmonton Oilers defenseman Brandon Davidson (88) in the third period of an NHL hockey game in New York, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2016. The Islanders defeated the Oilers 8-1. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
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The Carolina Hurricanes probably can save a few ice buckets tonight, as the New York Islanders will be without winger Cal Clutterbuck.

The Isles announced that Clutterbuck won’t play on Saturday because of an illness. Their next game is against the Detroit Red Wings on Monday, and then they don’t suit up again until Thursday, so Clutterbuck’s sickness may not be too much of a nuisance.

According to Yahoo’s numbers, the amusingly named forward has delivered 55 hits in 14 career games against the Canes (not to mention a solid five points).

Matt Martin‘s among the most frequent hitters in the league, too, so it’s not like the Hurricanes will leave tonight’s game totally unscathed.

Here are the Islanders’ tweaked forward lines:

If Wild want Yeo out, they’ll probably need to fire him

Minnesota Wild head coach Mike Yeo argues a call in the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Nashville Predators Tuesday, March 17, 2015, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
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If the Minnesota Wild want to make a coaching change, it sounds like Mike Yeo won’t make it easy for them by stepping down.

“I’m not freaking quitting here,” Yeo said to reporters including the Minneapolis Star-Tribune’s Michael Russo.

It also sounds like Yeo realizes that Minnesota’s morbid losing streak – now at a worrisome eight games – may very well cost him his job.

The scene sounded pretty somber after today’s loss to the Boston Bruins, and not in your usual way.

https://twitter.com/ChadGraff/status/698629021232455680

Yikes.

Firing Yeo would be a big step for the Wild, even more than usual, as he began his coaching stint in 2011. GM Chuck Fletcher was hired in 2009, so the two have been attached at the hip since then.

(And they got to know each other well in the Pittsburgh Penguins organization.)

Will one or both be gone, possibly in the near future? Even Yeo admits big changes can happen.

Wild players, meanwhile, just seem beaten down … and maybe ambivalent about Yeo?

A Wild losing streak: Minnesota’s skid hits eight games with 4-2 loss to Bruins

Boston Bruins left wing Brad Marchand (63) and Minnesota Wild defenseman Matt Dumba, right, battle for the puck during the second period of an NHL hockey game in St. Paul, Minn., Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016. (AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt)
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Just when you think things couldn’t get any worse for the Wild, they hit a new low.

Minnesota dropped an eighth straight decision in Saturday’s matinee against the Boston Bruins.

The Wild got behind the eight ball early.

Brad Marchand opened the scoring with a shorthanded goal at the 6:18 mark of the first period.

Thomas Vanek ended a 10-game goal drought to tie the game at two in the second period.

Unfortunately for Minnesota, the Bruins answered with goals by David Krejci, Loui Eriksson and Zdeno Chara.

Minnesota drops to 0-4 since GM Cliff Fletcher announced that coach Mike Yeo and his staff were safe.

Even the captain acknowledged that today’s effort wasn’t good enough:

The numbers aren’t pretty:

If they were to lose next Sunday’s Stadium Series game against Chicago, they would establish a new franchise record with their ninth straight loss on ice.

As bad as the Wild have been, they’re still in the thick of the playoff race.

Minnesota is three points behind Nashville for the final Wild Card spot in the West.

Goalie nods: With Talbot sick, Oilers give Laurent Brossoit second career start

San Jose Sharks Bryan Lerg (42) scores a goal on Edmonton Oilers goalie Laurent Brossoit (1) during the third period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, April 9, 2015, in Edmonton, Alberta. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Jason Franson)
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Laurent Brossoit will make his second career start in Saturday’s game against the Winnipeg Jets.

Brossoit will be between the pipes because starter Cam Talbot is ill and missed the morning skate.

The Oilers are hoping Brossoit isn’t as busy this time as he was in his first career start last year when he turned aside 49 shots in a 3-1 loss to San Jose.

“I’m a big believer in Brossoit,” said teammate Brandon Davidson, per the team’s website. “He’s done a great job. I played with him in the minors and he competes like no other. He’s tremendously athletic and he did a great job last year when he got the game too. He’s ready and I think he’ll show that tonight.”

The Jets will go with Ondrej Pavelec, who hasn’t played since Nov. 21 because of a knee injury.

Elsewhere…

–The Leafs have yet to announce their start. The Canucks haven’t named one either, but expect them to go with Ryan Miller.

Craig Anderson will be between the pipes for Ottawa. The Blue Jackets will counter with Joonas Korpisalo.

–Like the Leafs and Canucks, the Islanders and Hurricanes have yet to announce their starting goaltenders. It could be Jaroslav Halak against Eddie Lack.

–Expect Pekka Rinne to get the start against the Panthers. Roberto Luongo, who was pulled on Friday, will be between the pipes for Florida.

Braden Holtby will put his five-game winning streak on the line when Washington takes on Dallas. Kari Lehtonen will look to extend his winning streak to three games.

–The Ducks have yet to announce their start. The ‘Hawks will turn to Vezina Trophy candidate Corey Crawford.

Louis Domingue will look to win his second straight game. Martin Jones will get the start for San Jose.