Antti Niemi

Antti Niemi is San Jose’s rock in goal


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.

Video: Dylan Larkin adds to his rookie goals lead

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So far, the 2015-16 crop of rookies is living up to the hype, if not exceeding it. Connor McDavid‘s unfortunate injury hasn’t even derailed this year’s crop.

The Detroit Red Wings are watching their own blue chip blossom, as Dylan Larkin is making an instant impact.

No. 71 scored his 10th goal of the season against the Florida Panthers on Sunday, fattening his rookie goals lead.

He still needs five points to match rookie points leader Artemi Panarin, though.

Latest report leaves Carey Price’s injury timeline fuzzy

Carey Price
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There’s one thing we seem to know about Carey Price‘s injury situation: he first got hurt stepping on a puck on Oct. 29, according to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman.

Contrary to earlier reports about him missing about a month, it sounds like his window of recovery is still up in the air (which, to be fair, could mean that he’ll still miss about a month when it’s all said and done).

ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun reports that Price underwent testing with Montreal’s team doctor on Saturday and is expected to go through more; we may not know more about his expected injury timeline until early this coming week.

So, basically, Price’s situation is fuzzier than his mustache right now.

Leg injuries can be tricky anyway, so we shouldn’t be too surprised that there are mixed signals regarding Price, and this may remain a fluid situation for some time.

(But we’ll hopefully know more soon enough.)

Lightning lament life as a .500 team

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The Tampa Bay Lightning have plenty of time to rise above mediocrity, yet it still must be deserving to finish at .500 for two straight months.

After last night’s 3-2 loss to the New York Islanders, that’s exactly where they find themselves:

Record at the end of October: 5-5-2

Record at the end of November: 11-11-3

As of this writing, the Lightning found themselves on the outside looking in at the playoff picture. It all stands as a pretty tough thing for the reigning Eastern Conference champs to swallow.

The uncomfortable-yet-vital question is: can the Lightning break out of this funk?

Looking at their schedule, it won’t be easy, at least not right away.

They crawl through California during a three-game road trip to start December, and they also face six of eight on the road from Dec. 2 – 18.

The Lightning soak up home dates to finish 2015 after that, but what damage will be done by then?

Frankly, the Bolts will need to dig deep to break this pattern. If nothing else, they’ve fought with their backs against the wall before.

Dubinsky won’t change, and he won’t go easy on Crosby


Sometimes a suspension will shame a player, or at least inspire him to change the way he plays.

That apparently won’t happen regarding Brandon Dubinsky‘s one-game timeout session for cross-checking Sidney Crosby.

Dubinsky told Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch that he won’t alter his style, whether it’s against Crosby or someone else.

“Nope,” Dubinsky said. “You know, I’ve played the same way my whole career and I’m not going to change. The next time I have an opportunity to play (Crosby), I’m going to play him hard.”

In case you’re wondering, that next opportunity comes on Dec. 21 in Pittsburgh, assuming that both players are healthy and not suspended.

One can understand Dubinsky’s perspective, although such honesty would be that much more interesting if there’s another incident with Crosby. His initial reaction to the hit was interestingly candid, admitting that his “stick rode up” on his adversary.

Would that stance – which, from a harsher view, might seem flippant to Dubinsky’s critics – open the door for a bigger future bit of a discipline?

Maybe, maybe not … but at least his comments aren’t as inflammatory as what John Tortorella said (at least on the record).