Antti Niemi

Yet another question mark in San Jose? Goaltending


For all the criticism Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau received in the wake of San Jose’s devastating first-round collapse versus the Kings, the role goaltending played in that series should not be ignored.

Simply put, Antti Niemi didn’t perform well enough. The 30-year-old veteran finished the series with an .884 save percentage, allowing 19 goals on 164 shots. After San Jose won the first three contests, he was pulled in Games 4 and 5 before surrendering the crease to Alex Stalock for Game 6, after which he returned for Game 7, the final nail in the Sharks’ coffin.

Not surprisingly, there was talk the Sharks would try and trade Niemi, who was good enough to backstop the Blackhawks to a championship in 2010, as well as earn a Vezina Trophy nomination in 2013, but has had mixed postseason success since coming to San Jose.

Some even wondered if the Sharks might try and sign Ryan Miller, only for that speculation to quickly be cut short.

Ultimately, no changes were made. Niemi, with one year remaining on his contract, and Stalock, armed with a new two-year deal, are expected to compete for the starting role next season.

Stalock is an interesting case. The 27-year-old had great numbers in 2013-14 as Niemi’s backup (1.87 GAA, .932 SV%), but he’s only made 18 career NHL starts, all of them coming last season. Since leaving the University of Minnesota-Duluth, most of his pro games have been in the AHL.

Still, if Sharks general manger Doug Wilson is truly committed to his plan to “turn the team over to the younger core,” he, along with coach Todd McLellan, may be tempted to give Stalock a bit of a head start in the goaltending competition.

After healthy scratch, Severson vows to play ‘next 80 games’

Jimmy Hayes, Damon Severson
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Damon Severson was a healthy scratch on Saturday.

It’s the last game he wants to miss this season.

“I had a good chat with a few people and just pretty much said, ‘I want to be in the next 80 games,’” Severson said, per The Record. “I sat out my game and that’s all I want to be out for for the year.”

Severson is one of the Devils’ most important young players. But this is also the 21-year-old defenseman’s sophomore season, and that’s when slumps can occur.

Hence, the early message he was sent by the coaching staff.

Severson is expected to be back in the lineup tonight when New Jersey hosts Nashville.

“He doesn’t have to be perfect,” coach John Hynes told reporters. “We’d just like to see him have a high compete level. We know he’s ready to go. We had a couple of good meetings with him. He’s in a good spot mentally. I know he’s ready to roll.”

Virtanen to make NHL debut tonight versus Kings

Jake Virtanen
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Jake Virtanen, the sixth overall pick in the 2014 draft, will make his NHL debut tonight when his Canucks meet the Kings in Los Angeles.

The 19-year-old winger was a healthy scratch for Vancouver’s first three games of the regular season. He had two goals and two assists in six preseason games.

“I can’t wait,” he told reporters. “My energy is high. I want to get a couple of hits on my first shift.”

Big and physical with goal-scoring ability, the consensus is that Virtanen will remain in the NHL and not be returned to junior after he’s played nine games. That consensus could always change based on his play, of course.

The Canucks — who won last night in Anaheim — did not have a full skate this morning, so it’s unclear who will come out of the lineup. The best guess is rookie Jared McCann, who’s been playing third-line center.

If McCann does come out, the Canucks could move Brandon Sutter to third-line center and Virtanen could take Sutter’s spot on the first line with the Sedin twins. Or, there could be more extensive line juggling.