Sharks’ Thornton on Niemi: ‘I think he’s the best goalie in the world’


As Brough wrote last week, there is no obvious choice for this year’s Vezina Trophy.

Joe Thornton, though, thinks differently.

The Sharks captain is backing Antti Niemi not just as the best goalie in the NHL — but on the planet.

“You’ve been watching the same as us. He’s been great for a long time,” Thornton told the San Jose Mercury News. “Last night [Tuesday’s 3-2 win over LA] he was great, tonight he was great. Three games ago he was great.

“Every night he gives us a chance to win, and I think he’s the best goalie in the world.”

Jumbo Joe might have a point.

Niemi is enjoying arguably the finest season of his career, leading the NHL in wins (22) while sitting seventh in save percentage (.926) and ninth in GAA (2.12).

Most impressively, he’s done all this as a workhorse, appearing in 39 of San Jose’s 43 games this year.

Only Nashville’s Pekka Rinne (41) has played more games.

The 29-year-old Finn is one of only two goalies with 1,000-plus saves this year (the other is Ryan Miller) and his four shutouts have him one back of league leaders Rinne, Cory Schneider and Mike Smith (all tied with five).

The big question about Niemi’s Vezina candidacy is where he plays.

San Jose often doesn’t drop puck until 10:30 p.m. ET, meaning a lot of voters (in this instance, NHL general managers) don’t get to see him play.

If you don’t think that’s an issue, consider this: Of the last 18 Vezina winners, 17 came from the Eastern Conference. The lone exception was in 2005-06, when Calgary’s Miikka Kiprusoff won it.

Sharks head coach Todd McLellan says Niemi definitely deserves consideration for this year’s Vezina.

“Nemo deserves to be part of that conversation leaguewide when people begin to talk about potential candidates for those awards,” McLellan said. “His numbers speak for themselves.”

Metro’s best? Capitals keep winning, pass Rangers for division lead

Jonathan Bernier; Matt Niskanen; Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau
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If you want to summarize the Capitals – Maple Leafs game in one sentence, you could do worse than:

“Washington is hot as Jonathan Bernier is cold.”

The Caps reeled off a 4-2 win against Toronto on Saturday, giving them five straight wins. They also jumped into first place in the Metropolitan Division today, as they keep climbing while the New York Rangers are experiencing some growing pains.

Again, James Reimer can’t get healthy and back in Toronto’s net too soon:

With this win, Washington is now 17-5-1, leading the Metro by one point with 35 standings points. They also hold a game in hand against the Rangers, and no other Metro team even has 30 right now.

Measuring stick stretch begins

Tonight’s game began a “prove-it” month-and-change for Washington.

This contest began a three-game road trip, and they’ll also play six of seven away from Washington.

It’s pretty rough through the start of 2016, really. The Capitals will only enjoy three home games through Jan. 9.

In other words, the Capitals seem like a convincing East contender, but look out if they remain hot through the next 5-6 weeks.

Video: Evgeni Malkin leaves Oilers spinning


Yes, there’s a lot of drama surrounding the Pittsburgh Penguins, whether it’s founded on serious problems or merely speculation.

It’s easy to get swept up in all of that and ignore the fact that, hey, they still have Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby. Those two can really heal wounds with their on-ice play, and in Saturday’s case, Malkin is taking over against the Edmonton Oilers.

His spin-o-rama goal above was a real jaw-dropper. He also scored Pittsburgh’s second tally:

These highlights feel like Malkin’s way of saying “It’s going to be just fine.”

Update: It wasn’t enough for a win, however, as the Oilers beat the Penguins 3-2 via a shootout.

Lightning’s first fight this season: Ryan Callahan vs. Kyle Okposo

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Fighting is down more or less across the board in the NHL, but the Tampa Bay Lightning might be the franchise least interested in dropping the gloves.

Ryan Callahan vs. Kyle Okposo already has some name recognition to it, yet it gets some bonus points for being the Bolts’ first fighting major of 2015-16.

It … probably loses those bonus points in being run-of-the-mill.

Hey, be fair; the Lightning are clearly out of practice.

Oilers GM doesn’t want to force a trade for the sake of a trade

Peter Chiarelli

It must be a helpless feeling to sit idly by while your team continues to flail, but such emotions are what opposing GMs love to prey on.

Edmonton Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli hasn’t been around through much of the suffering for this hapless franchise, yet that doesn’t mean he’s immune to the calls for improvement. To his credit, he’s not buckling under that pressure.

You can see and hear his full comments below:

If you don’t feel like playing the video, the message is simple enough.

Chiarelli isn’t happy with Edmonton’s record – he hasn’t “seen progression” in ways that he was expecting, but again … he doesn’t want to force moves.

Long story short, he can “sleep at night,” even if he’s disappointed.

Is he right to take a relaxed approach, though? Maybe it’s time to blow up a part of what isn’t working? Have some fun armchair GM’ing on this one.