If you ordered me to put together a list of this season’s most underrated goalies, San Jose Sharks netminder Antti Niemi would be way up there.
Still, every goalie has a rough night here and there. CSNBayArea.com’s Kevin Kurz shares Sharks coach Todd McLellan’s rather blunt criticisms of Niemi and the defense – especially Niemi – after a 6-5 shootout loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
“That as poor as we’ve played around our net,” McLellan said. “Our net play was just atrocious, starting with the goaltender, and then the defensemen and the forwards. It was very, very poor. I’m really disappointed in our group. We’re much better than that, and have got to fix it.”
“He wasn’t any good. I protect him a lot and talk about the team. He has to be better. Flat out, has to be better.”
Not exactly beating around the bush, eh?
Overall, Niemi’s record (23-13-6), individual numbers (.914 save percentage, 2.42 GAA and four shutouts) and workload (43 games played) likely matches the team’s expectations.
He’s been slipping a bit lately, though, with a 1-3-1 record in his last five games and a 3-5-1 mark in nine.
Responding to a challenge
Of course, he also has two shutouts in that span, which reinforces my assumption that Niemi might be the NHL’s most dynamically hot-and-cold goalie. (At least in a league full of seemingly uniform netminders.)
With that in mind, the Sharks need to try to push the right buttons with the one-time Stanley Cup winner. He’s done well in pressure situations, but his coach’s criticisms place a different kind of heat on the 28-year-old.
Do you think he’ll respond well?