Why the Sharks should practice patience with Antti Niemi

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In this instant media age, it’s not surprising that the hockey public can turn on a goalie in a heart beat. Inexperience, bad luck and spotty defensive support are rarely accepted as excuses, even if there’s often more to a scoreboard meltdown than a shaky netminder.

Many NHL coaches are ridiculed for sticking with goalies in those bleaker moments, but let’s not assume that we know more about these individuals than the teams who handle them. The Philadelphia Flyers probably get a little too much heat for their history of goaltending struggles – they have been a consistently competitive franchise for a staggering amount of time, after all – but their recent carousel has been problematic. Was it really fair to pull the plug on Sergei Bobrovsky so quickly in Round 1 after he helped them so much during the season?

The polar opposite example is Roberto Luongo. He struggled against Chicago up until Game 7, but has been outstanding since then. He allowed one goal in that Game 7 OT win, pitched a shutout in Game 1 against Nashville and was beaten twice in last night’s double overtime loss. Maybe he has been upstaged by at times by Corey Crawford and Pekka Rinne, but he rewarded Vancouver’s patience by allowing just three goals in about 11 periods of hockey.

Niemi’s struggles against Los Angeles generates concern

Going into their second round series against the Detroit Red Wings, the San Jose Sharks faced (and still face) probing questions about Antti Niemi. It is indeed tough to deny that they should keep an eye on the Finnish sophomore netminder after he was pulled in two of the Sharks’ final four playoff games against the Los Angeles Kings.

Many people probably noted Niemi’s strong second half of the 2010-11 season and wondered if he’s melting down under the pressure, but if you review his game log from last year’s playoffs, it’s clear that Niemi is a feast or famine netminder.

Niemi’s hot-and-cold 2010 Stanley Cup run

During his 11 “good” nights, Niemi earned two shutouts, allowed only one goal three times and allowed two in six other instances. At the same time, he had 11 average-to-bad nights, allowing three goals four times and four or more during seven other starts.

On one hand, this shows that the team in front of him was very good, as he won a Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks while posting a 16-6 postseason record. That being said, Niemi also showed a pattern of following up a bad performance or two with streaks of red-hot play.

Why the Sharks should ultimately stick with Niemi, barring a total collapse

This indicates that he probably won’t be the type of goalie who carries his team every game – it seems like his only consistently dominant series was actually against San Jose last year – but it also suggests that he can help the Sharks win if they stick with him through the darker moments.

The Sharks have a tendency to bombard their opponents and generate the greatest amount of scoring chances, so they need a goalie who can handle counter-punching offenses. Sometimes they might need to deal with a shaky statistical night (or 11?), but Niemi could have the right kind of mental makeup to win behind this type of team.

Niemi produced a solid Game 1 against Detroit, turning aside 24 out of 25 shots in the Sharks’ OT win. Considering the Red Wings’ firepower, it almost seems inevitable that they’ll eventually “get” to him. The question is: will San Jose’s coaching staff have the patience to let him fight through it?

A patient strategy seemed to work out quite well for last year’s champion Blackhawks, at least.

Report: ‘Hawks could add Ulf Samuelsson to coaching staff

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The Chicago Blackhawks are searching for an assistant coach, and Ulf Samuelsson might just be their guy.

According to the Chris Kuc of the Chicago Tribune, Samuelsson is the “top candidate” to replace Mike Kitchen, who was fired after the ‘Hawks were swept by the Nashville Predators in the opening round the playoffs.

The obvious connection here, is that Samuelsson and head coach Joel Quenneville were teammates with the Hartford Whalers back in the 1980s.

Samuelsson, 53, was an associate coach with the Arizona Coyotes from 2006 to 2011 and he was an assistant with the New York Rangers from 2013 to 2016. Last season,  he served as the head coach of Carolina’s farm team, the Charlotte Checkers.

He led the Checkers to a 39-29-8 record during the 2016-17 AHL campaign.

2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs schedule for Monday, May 22

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Will the Nashville Predators become the first team to clinch a berth in the 2017 Stanley Cup Final? We’ll find out tonight.

The Preds were able to push the Ducks to the brink of elimination after their impressive win in Game 5 on Saturday night.

Nashville was able to get the job done without centers Ryan Johansen and Mike Fisher. We know Johansen will be out for Game 6, but maybe Fisher can give them a boost.

Here’s what you need to know:

Anaheim Ducks vs. Nashville Predators (Preds lead 3-2)

Time: 8:00 p.m. ET

Network: NBCSN (Stream live here)

Check out the highlights from Nashville’s 3-1 win in Game 5

Related:

Ducks will be without Eaves and Rakell in Game 6

Pontus Aberg ‘face planted’ before scoring game-winning goal in Game 6

PHT Morning Skate: Is it time for the Wild to blow up their roster?

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–Former NHL head coach Don Cherry weighed in on Preds fans throwing ducks on the ice during games, and he’s not a fan. “I know there’s duck hunters and all that, that’s OK, duck hunters, they have an even chance. And you’re gonna say, ‘Well yeah, Cherry, you had the octopus.’ Okay, but that octopus, we got it from a fish market, it was already dead.” (Sportsnet)

Mats Zuccarello was driving around in Norway when he noticed a kid shooting pucks into a net. The Rangers forward pulled over and made sure to have a good chat with the youngster. (New York Daily News)

–Team USA may have failed to pick up a medal at the World Hockey Championship (again), but with plenty of young talent on the roster, the future appears to be bright for the program. It’s too bad the NHL is deciding not to go to the Olympics though. (New York Post)

–The Pittsburgh Penguins annihilated the Ottawa Senators, 7-0, last night. You can see each one of those goals by clicking the video at the top of the page.

–To drum up interest in the Golden Knights, the team organized a “Sticks for Kids” street hockey clinic over the weekend, and over 1500 kids left there with a stick and a ball. “We want to get them started learning the game at a young age. It’s a process, from putting a stick in their hands to learning to skate to then learning to play. We want to hit all demographics. We want everyone in Las Vegas to feel involved and welcomed. We don’t want it to be an afterthought for anyone.” (Las Vegas Review-Journal)

–The Minnesota Wild got off to a great start this season, but they faded down the stretch and were eventually bounced in the opening round of the playoffs. Now, some people in Minnesota are wondering if it’s time for the Wild to blow things up and start from scratch. It would allow them to draft a high-end offensive talent, but is it the right approach? (Minneapolis StarTribune)

–After their Game 5 win in Anaheim, the Predators were greeted at the local airport by over 1000 fans. It was a pretty wild scene:

Former Blackhawks defenseman Bill White dies at 77

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Bill White, who played 604 career regular season games in the National Hockey League, has passed away, the Chicago Blackhawks announced Sunday.

He was 77 years old.

More from the Blackhawks:

White spent seven years in the minors before the National Hockey League grew from six to 12 teams in 1967. When the expansion Los Angeles Kings gained his rights, he immediately earned acclaim as an extraordinary stay-at-home defenseman. During the 1969-70 season, Pat Stapleton of the Blackhawks incurred an injury. With his club a serious contender, General Manager Tommy Ivan acquired White from the Kings. When Stapleton returned, he and White formed one of the NHL’s finest blue-line tandems, the former expertly generating offense and the latter adept at laying back.

He scored 50 goals and 265 points during his time in the league.

In addition to playing for the Kings and Blackhawks, White was also a member of Canada’s 1972 Summit Series team, which defeated the Soviet Union in an epic eight-game series.

“A younger generation might not understand what we went through,” White once told the Toronto Sun. “I’m still asked about playing in the series at least twice a week.”