‘He’s not tired’: McLellan shoots down talk of Niemi being overworked

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Antti Niemi has been one of the NHL’s busiest goalies this year but, according to Sharks head coach Todd McLellan, that’s not the reason for his recent struggles.

“Nope. Nope. Not at all,” McLellan told CSN Bay Area when asked about the possibility of Niemi, second among all NHL goalies in time on ice, being overworked. “The interesting part about Nemo is the most rest he’s had, has been in the last 10 days, and he hasn’t been as sharp.

“As soon as Alex [Stalock] played [on Oct. 27 in Ottawa], Nemo had a couple days off, [we] come back into LA, not as sharp. We haven’t been playing every second day, so I think the exact opposite of what you’re suggesting. Exact opposite.”

Niemi, a Vezina nominee last year, won his first six starts of the season and was 9-1-1 following a 2-0 shutout of Montreal on Oct. 26.

But as McLellan mentioned, that’s when things went south.

Following last night’s 4-2 loss in Vancouver — a game in which he was hooked early in the second in favor of Stalock — Niemi found himself mired in a four-game stretch where he’s gone 0-1-3 with a 4.09 GAA and .842 save percentage. Unsurprisingly, his struggles have led to San Jose struggling, as the Sharks have lost five of their last six (though they’ve only failed to secure points in two of them.)

The overworked theory doesn’t hold much weight when you consider what Niemi’s done the last two years. In 2013, he tied for the league lead in starts (43) and finished third in shots faced, with 1220. Yet he still managed to finish with outstanding numbers (24-12-6, 2.16 GAA, .924 save percentage) and earn his first-ever Vezina nomination.

The year prior, Niemi made 68 starts and racked up 34 wins. Again, workload was not a problem.

“He’s working on his game,” McLellan said. “All of a sudden, he’s starting to not be as involved as he normally is.

“He’s not tired. I can tell you that.”