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

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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.”