Thomas Greiss

Niemi won’t be ready for Sharks opening night

We knew that San Jose Sharks backup goaltender Antero Niittymaki wouldn’t be ready for opening night. He’ll be lucky if he’s ready by Christmas. We also knew that starting netminder Antti Niemi was questionable for opening night after recently having a cyst removed from his leg. Reports out of San Jose state that Niemi is close to being ready for game action, but he won’t be ready for the Sharks first game against the Phoenix Coyotes on Saturday night.

Enter Thomas Greiss. You may remember Greiss from the 16 games he played while backing-up Evgeni Nabokov in San Jose during the 2009-10 season. After the Sharks completely overhauled their goaltending situations last offseason, Greiss found himself in the Swedish Elite League for a season before returning to the San Jose organization this year. Greiss talked about the possibility of playing against Phoenix on Saturday:

“It would be great. It would be the first home opener for me, so it would be fun.”

(snip)

“I’ll be happy with whatever ice time I get, will try and do my best and prove myself.”

Since Greiss’s comments to the media, Sharks head coach Todd McLellan has confirmed that the German born netminder will get the start on opening night in San Jose. After his play in the preseason, he’s certainly earned the chance to show what he can do. He posted a 4-1-0 record with a 1.71 goals against average. McLellan explained that not only is Greiss starting to believe that he belongs, but his teammates are believing it as well:

“I think he feels like he belongs here and expects to be here. His teammates are more comfortable with him. His teammates have been around him more and know what to expect from him in certain situations. Because of circumstances, it wasn’t a pleasant season for him (last year). But now he’s back in the NHL, starting on Opening Night and it’s another life for him.”

For the Sharks to get where they want to go this season, they’re going to need Greiss to be an adequate backup. There’s a very good chance that Niemi will only miss a single start because the Sharks won’t play their second game until next Friday in Anaheim. But McLellan wants to go with a balanced goaltending rotation at the beginning of the season to help preserve Niemi for the end of the season. If the Sharks coaching staff wants to go with a rotation at the beginning of the season and Niittymaki isn’t set to return until December, Greiss will be appear in more games than your average third-stringer.

There’s not that much pressure on Greiss though. The Sharks are only challenging for another Pacific Division crown, another spot in the Western Conference final, and perhaps more this season. It’s Niemi’s job for the long-haul, but games in October and November count just as much as those in February and March. Keep that in mind when the Sharks are battling for home ice advantage later in the year.

Latest way the Wild lost? Killed by penalty kill

Minnesota Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk sits on the ice after giving up a goal to St. Louis Blues' Jori Lehtera, of Finland, during the second period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
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It’s said that variety is the spice of life, yet it seems to be the spite of the Minnesota Wild.

As head coach Mike Yeo said, this struggling team appears to find a new way to lose virtually every night. That couldn’t have happened once again on Saturday, when they fell 4-1 to the St. Louis Blues, could it?

Actually …

If you ask Jarret Stoll, the latest problem was the penalty kill.

Honestly, Stoll may have been too specific, likely trying to throw his own unit under the bus. Instead, it might be more accurate to say that Minnesota’s special teams let them down.

Indeed, the Wild struggled to limit the Blues’ power play, which went an unsettling 3-for-6. That said, Minnesota had a chance to trade blows with St. Louis. Instead, the Wild managed one power-play goal on seven opportunities.

The silver lining is that the Wild believe that they showed more fight than this fragile bunch had been generating before.

On the other hand, with Jonas Brodin on IR and Jared Spurgeon apparently hurt, that silver lining may not be so easy to see.

Statement in Blackhawks’ blowout of Stars? Coach Q says they’re even

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Worry (if you’re pulling for the Stars) or gloat (if you’re a Blackhawks fan) all you want, but the bottom line is that the Central Division’s No.1 spot is clearly in Chicago’s control after Saturday night.

The Blackhawks earned a decisive 5-1 win against the Dallas Stars, giving them a five-point standings lead over Dallas for the Central Division lead.

You may feel like that’s more of the same, but consider this: things would look a lot closer if Dallas won or gained points, as they hold three games in hand on the ‘Hawks.

At least one Blackhawks player admits this game means a little more than your average W.

Indeed, while Antti Niemi was pulled from the game and Kari Lehtonen faced his own struggles in Dallas’ net, Corey Crawford ranked as one of the big reasons why the score was so lopsided.

(Artem Anisimov had a big say in that, too.)

As a wise coach with 1,000+ games of experience would do, Joel Quenneville didn’t go overboard in assessing the victory.

Was this a statement game? Who knows, but a certain statement is that the Blackhawks now have a five-point standings lead.

Brad Marchand wins it … on a penalty shot … in overtime

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Looking at the standings, beating the Buffalo Sabres was pretty important for the Boston Bruins. The Atlantic Division’s run for spots appears particularly congested out East.

Of all the Bruins to get a chance to win it all, the team might have wanted Brad Marchand to have that opportunity. He’s on pace to destroy his previous career-highs for scoring, and Marchand’s been particularly hot lately.

Either way, Marchand came up big indeed, scoring the rare overtime game-winner on a penalty shot. Check out the drama below:

That can be a big extra point and ROW (regulation/overtime win) when the regular season is finished.

Note: Many believe that Marchand should not have received a penalty shot on the play.

Crosby kills the Cats: Penguins end Panthers’ winning streak

Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby (87) collides with Florida Panthers' Connor Brickley (86) during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Pittsburgh, Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2015. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
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For quite some time, it looked like the Florida Panthers would keep the Pittsburgh Penguins under wraps.

Florida nursed a 1-0 lead into a 2-0 margin almost halfway through the third period, looking to win its sixth consecutive game. That looked great … and then Sidney Crosby + Kris Letang happened.

Let’s put it this way: this GIF of Crosby being frustrated is amusing, yet it doesn’t exactly tell the story of Saturday’s 3-2 overtime win for the Penguins:

Instead, Crosby grabbed his 900th point assisting on a Letang goal, and finished the night with 902 by collecting the game-tying goal and grabbing a helper on Letang’s overtime game-winner.

Crosby crossing that barrier is indeed special, even if it prompts “What if?” questions about No. 87’s health.

The resurgence of Crosby and Letang already played a big role in the Penguins going from disjointed and frustrating to sneaky and scary, so it  shouldn’t be that surprising to see them play so well. Doing so in such brisk order is a little bewildering, however.