The San Jose Sharks owe much of the credit to their strong finish last season to goaltender Antti Niemi. What’s not so strange about giving credit to him is that he’s been everything they hoped he would be since coming over from Chicago three years ago.
After not getting a lot of credit for helping the Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup in 2010, Niemi arrived in San Jose thanks to some nifty salary cap strategy by GM Doug Wilson. Chicago wanted to hang on to Niemi but after the Sharks forced their hand to retain then restricted free agent Niklas Hjalmarsson via offer sheet, the cap strapped ‘Hawks had to let Niemi go when San Jose pounced on him.
Since then, he’s been the rock in goal for the Sharks that Evgeni Nabokov wasn’t.
The past three seasons have been sneakily great for the Finnish netminder. Check out his numbers while he’s been in San Jose:
2010-2011: 35-18-6 .920 2.38
2011-2012: 34-22-9 .915 2.42
2012-2013: 24-12-6 .924 2.16
What makes his stats last season so incredible is he led the NHL in not just wins but also minutes played. With a workload like that, you’d expect him to wear down. Instead, he was just as strong through the playoffs and was only unseated by a white-hot Jonathan Quick and the L.A. Kings. No wonder he was a Vezina Trophy finalist.
When you compare those numbers to what Nabokov did at the same age (27-29) in San Jose, Niemi stands even taller. The Sharks also didn’t hear many questions or worries about how Niemi would hold up in the playoffs, something that often occurred (still occurs?) with Nabokov.
Now the Sharks just have to hope new backup Alex Stalock can help make sure he stays fresh deep into next season and the playoffs. With Niemi having a great chance to make the Finnish Olympic team, they’ll need that help.
San Jose may not have known at the time that they made a big upgrade in goal when they signed Niemi, but that’s just what they got.
The Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins are going to take their rivalry outside on Saturday.
The Flyers visit the Penguins in a Stadium Series clash at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, beginning at 8 p.m. ET. You can catch the action on NBC or online with the NBC Sports Live Extra.
CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE
Here are some links to check out for tonight’s game:
Goalie nods: Murray, Neuvirth get the call at Heinz Field
Kris Letang won’t play in outdoor game; Schultz game-time decision
NHL On NBC: Penguins, Flyers meet in Stadium Series
Giroux: ‘It’s all business’ between Penguins and Flyers at Heinz Field
The Tampa Bay Lightning and Arizona Coyotes have made a minor league trade.
The Bolts on Saturday acquired right winger Stefan Fournier from the Coyotes in exchange for right winger Jeremy Morin, who has played 82 career NHL games between the Chicago Blackhawks and Columbus Blue Jackets.
Fournier stands six-foot-three-inches tall and 226 pounds. He has two goals and four points in 29 games with the Tuscon Roadrunners in the AHL.
Morin, who has spent the majority of his pro career in the Blackhawks organization, has been a productive minor league player over the years. He has nine goals and 21 points in 43 games this season with the Syracuse Crunch in the AHL.
The New York Islanders entered today with a three-game winning streak and holders of the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.
But yeah, it’s been a disastrous start for the Islanders on Saturday. The Blue Jackets scored three times in the first period, chasing Thomas Greiss from the New York net after he stopped 14 of 17 shots faced.
Jean-Francois Berube entered the game to begin the second period and promptly surrendered a goal to Josh Anderson, who scored his 12th of the season.
Oh, look at that: Another heated melee involving the Anaheim Ducks and L.A. Kings.
You’ll recall a first-period fight fest in a pivotal Pacific Division game between these teams almost one full year ago. On Saturday, in another meeting between these California rivals, the Ducks and Kings were once again at odds.
This latest conflict? Well, Corey Perry was involved. Again. (Last year, order had been restored during a brief scrum before Perry gave an extra shot to a Kings player, resulting in mayhem.)
Perry was called this time around for interference on Anze Kopitar. Kings players, as you might expect, suddenly rushed over before Nate Thompson and Brayden McNabb squared off in the main event.