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.

Flames win in OT, setting up a four-team race for Pacific Division title

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ST. LOUIS (AP) Sean Monahan likes working overtime. The Calgary Flames forward proved it again Saturday night.

Monahan scored with 3 seconds left in overtime, lifting the Flames past the St. Louis Blues 3-2. Troy Brouwer and Matt Bartkowski also scored for the Flames, who improved to 13-4 in overtime this season. Brian Elliott made 29 saves.

Monahan’s winning goal deflected off of Blues forward Kyle Brodziak. It was his third goal in his last four games.

“You never know, when you throw pucks at the net, anything can happen,” Monahan said. “That’s a good bounce, a lucky bounce and we’ll take it.”

Monahan set the Flames franchise record with the seventh regular-season overtime goal of his career. He also has seven career shootout winners.

Flames coach Glen Gulutzan didn’t know what happened at first immediately after the game-winner.

“I jumped when everybody else jumped and it was kind of like, I didn’t get the joke, right?” Gulutzan said. “Everybody got the joke, I didn’t. I just jumped because I saw everybody else jump. So now I’ve got to take a look at it now.”

Ivan Barbashev and Jaden Schwartz scored for the Blues, who had their four-game winning streak snapped. Jake Allen made 28 saves and all three goals he gave up went off of teammates.

“You feel bad for Jake when he played the way he did,” Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo said. “If you give up three goals off your own guys, it means probably, for the most part, you’re doing a good job defensively. Some tough bounces there, but we got a point out of it.”

The Blues fell one point behind Nashville for third in the Central Division with 86 points and eight games to go. St. Louis trails Calgary by two points for the top wild-card spot.

The Flames snapped a two-game skid, salvaging the finale of a three-game road trip.

“It was a quick-paced game and it was pretty physical and it was back and forth all night, but we feel good right now and we’re both fighting to stay in the playoffs and it was a big win for our team,” Monahan said.

Schwartz gave the Blues a 2-1 lead at the 7:16 mark of the third period. The puck went off of Schwartz’s skate and the goal was upheld after a review.

Bartkowski tied it at 10:53. It was the first goal in 17 games this season for the Flames defenseman.

Brouwer’s power-play goal gave the Flames a 1-0 lead with 2:49 left in the first period. It snapped an 0-for-12 scoreless streak with the man advantage for Calgary.

Elliott stopped all 13 shots in the opening frame, including two quality chances by Schwartz and Alex Pietrangelo on a Blues power play.

Elliott improved to 4-1 all-time against his former team, including a 2-0 mark this season.

“I mean, obviously, you’d like to give up no goals there and I thought it was a blatant kicking motion (by Schwartz), but you’ve got to get points somehow in this league,” Elliott said. “It was big to solidify one point and then to go after the next one.”

Barbashev tied it at the 8:08 mark of the second period. Colton Parayko‘s pass drew Elliott out of position and Barbashev, on his second try after his first was blocked by a Calgary defender, put the puck in the empty net.

“After the first off the legs of the D or someone, I saw the puck was going back and I wasn’t for 100 percent sure that someone was going to be there, but I got lucky,” Barbashev said.

Sharks coach DeBoer wasn’t happy with Jarnkrok hit that preceded Haley match penalty

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San Jose Sharks head coach Pete DeBoer weighed in on Micheal Haley‘s sucker punch on Calle Jarnkrok in the third period of Saturday’s game.

Haley was given a match penalty for the incident. He was hit into the boards by Jarnkrok and immediately retaliated, dropping the Nashville Predators forward with one punch as a melee ensued.

Jarnkrok was penalized for boarding on the hit.

DeBoer had an interesting take on the incident.

“When you run someone from behind in a game like that, you probably deserve to get a punch in the mouth,” he told reporters.

The Sharks have now lost six in a row, after a 7-2 defeat to the Predators. The Oilers defeated the Avalanche on Saturday, which puts San Jose into a three-way tie with Anaheim and Edmonton at 91 points for first place in the Pacific Division.

In two games this weekend versus Dallas and Nashville, the Sharks were outscored 13-3.

It gets worse.

Per CSN Bay Area, forward Logan Couture was taken to the hospital after he took a puck to the mouth and lost a tooth late in the second period.

“You can’t replace him, so it would be really tough,” said Patrick Marleau of Couture. “But if that is the case, then guys are going to have to pull up the slack. Definitely we hope he’s back sooner.”

Babcock: ‘I don’t know the answer’ about status of injured goalie Andersen

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Not only did the Toronto Maple Leafs lose in Buffalo on Saturday, but goalie Frederik Andersen left the game with an upper-body injury and didn’t return.

Curtis McElhinney took over in net to begin the second period. He allowed three goals on 22 shots, as Buffalo busted this one wide open with three goals in the middle frame on the way to a 5-2 victory.

Despite the loss, the Maple Leafs remain third in the Atlantic Division. But the Andersen injury is definitely a concerning development as Toronto looks to accelerate its rebuild by qualifying for the post-season.

Head coach Mike Babcock didn’t provide an update on Andersen following the game. But he did drop one little tidbit of information that has led to speculation about the possible nature of the injury.

From the Toronto Sun:

The suspicion was that Andersen has suffered a concussion or a shoulder injury, though coach Mike Babcock had no update.

“I can’t really tell you because I don’t know the answer,” Babcock said.

“The other team’s doctor thought he should come out of the game so he came out of the game. Once our doctors see him (on Sunday), I will have a better handle on what is going on and I will be able to tell you.

It’s not exactly clear when or how the injury occurred, but possibilities have been discussed. Here’s one example:

Video: Haley given match penalty for sucker punch, Sharks lose sixth straight

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Things continue to snowball out of control for the San Jose Sharks.

The Sharks lost their sixth consecutive game after yet another blowout defeat, this time by a final score of 7-2 versus the Nashville Predators on Saturday. Forward Logan Couture lost a tooth after taking a puck to the face in the second period.

And late in the game, Micheal Haley was given a match penalty for an incident involving Calle Jarnkrok.

The Sharks forward is now automatically suspended until commissioner Gary Bettman reviews the incident.

This incident occurred when Haley was hit into the boards by Jarnkrok. Haley then got up, sped right toward the Predators forward, dropped his gloves and delivered a punch to Jarnkrok as he tried to back away, knocking him to the ice.

Jarnkrok was given a minor penalty for boarding.

Haley was also involved in a fight with Cody McLeod early in the first period.

This has been a particularly shocking, if not embarrassing stretch for the Sharks. In a two-game trip to Dallas and Nashville, against teams below them in the standings, the Sharks were outscored 13-3.

Martin Jones allowed seven goals on 34 shots faced.

If Edmonton wins tonight, the Sharks, Ducks and Oilers will be in a three-way tie for first place in the Pacific Division.

Related: What is wrong with the Sharks?