A Fan of the Game

Sports Talk, Straight Talk

Fishing for Fins: Sharks add Niemi

Sharks fans everywhere scoffed at acquiring Antti Niemi throughout the summer and they all were forced to eat crow Sept. 2 when the Sharks officially announced the signing of the Finnish goalie.

San Jose now boasts a goaltending tandem of also Fin, Antero Niittymaki and Niemi as opposed to last year’s twosome of Evgeni Nabokov and Thomas Greiss.

But you won’t see any partying in the streets. Reaction everywhere on Sharks forums is negative and pessimistic. Of course, being a Sharks fan, the only thing you know is bad luck and seeing the glass half empty.

Niemi signed a one-year, $2 million contract with the Sharks

Playoff Proven

The addition of a Stanley Cup-winning goalie is an upgrade over Niittymaki first and foremost. You can argue technique and positioning all day, but Niemi has shown he can make the big saves when called upon.

Niittymaki has only played in two NHL playoff games and looked awful (.828 save percentage, five goals against in 73 minutes). That isn’t a big enough sample size to judge him on playoff play, but it puts him in the same boat as Thomas Greiss.

Previous all-star Nabokov was an OK playoff performer (.907 save %, 2.56 GAA), but couldn’t steal enough games by himself to bring his team to the promise land. Some fans have even dared to bring up how good he is in the regular season. Are you kidding me? Every Sharks fan should know by now how much the regular season means.

But didn’t Niemi have a great defense?

The biggest argument against Niemi and his Stanley Cup ring is that he had a spectacular defense in front of him. That’s very true, and playing for the Sharks will be a completely different experience.

However, we don’t truly know how that defense affected Niemi’s psyche. Maybe knowing he had a defense in front of him, he didn’t play up to his potential and relied on the defense to clear out his gigantic rebounds. Now backstopping an average defense in San Jose could spark him to step up his game to higher level.

Pure speculation but it’s something to think about.

Lame Argument

Niittymaki supporters like to mention that “when he’s on, he’s unstoppable.” This is an argument I love to hate. When any goalie is “on” they can be unstoppable. And if you have to use that argument at all in the first place, it means the goalie is inconsistent.

I wonder if Niitty is "on" in this picture.

The puzzle is still incomplete

One odd reaction to the Niemi addition is that people seem to think this is the roster the Sharks will enter the season with — three NHL starting goalies on one team with another star prospect (Alex Stalock) in the minors.

There is no way this team stays the way it is now. I think some trade will happen before the season starts — probably involving Greiss — to acquire a defenseman.

Ryane Clowe is a name that’s been thrown around numerous times for a package deal to bring in a top-4 defenseman. Something does have to be done about the defense, it doesn’t matter if Patrick Roy were the Sharks goalie, the defense has to improve.

San Jose lacks a shutdown pair, and unfortunately, Huskins-Wallin just won’t cut it (haha).

I’m not a fan of the Dan Boyle-Douglas Murray pair, just because I’m not a Murray fan. I think he’s a pylon who’s only good for one big hit a game. He was terrible in the playoffs, always being a step behind the play and leaving a man open.

There’s been rumors of the Sharks trading Greiss + other assets to Philadelphia for Braydon Coburn, and other whisperings of a potential offer sheet for Rangers restricted free agent Marc Staal.

"Jesus" Greiss' days may be numbered in San Jose

Either would be an upgrade over Murray, but those may be forever pipe dreams.

Sharks GM Doug Wilson must know the defense needs an upgrade, so I wouldn’t fret about the Sharks defense as it is now. It will change — hopefully sooner than later.

-Ray

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September 4, 2010 Posted by | Hockey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Inside the Shark Cage, Vol. 20

Quite the amazing performance by the Sharks in their dominant 5-0 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins. My hatred for the Penguins may only be matched by my hatred for the Detroit Red Wings, and to see the Penguins demolished was beyond gratifying.

Where to start?

I was definitely wrong about Evgeni Nabokov. I don’t know what conditioning regiment this guy is on, but put the entire team on it. Three games in four nights and he comes out with a shutout. He stopped all 27 shots he faced. Wow. Can’t give him enough credit.

San Jose battled for every puck and came out with it most of the time. No one relaxed much — even after gaining a 4-0 advantage going into the third period.

Jamie McGinn scored the first goal from a bank-in off Marc-Andre Fleury’s left pad. You could feel something good was going to happen the whole night.

Joe Pavelski, yes, Joe Pavelski, finally came back to the lineup tonight after being out since the second game of the year. He didn’t disappoint. He put up two points (one goal, one assist) and didn’t have much rust. His assist really should have been a goal; the puck was headed in, but Dany Heatley slammed it home when the puck was about one inch from the goal line. Gotta love Heater!

Dan Boyle owned the ice tonight. It was his. No disputing that. He continuously carried the puck from the defensive zone all the way to the net for scoring chances. It looks like that broken thumb is fully healed, and he’s on a mission to contribute. One of those times coming down the ice, he deked a few Pens and snapped a shot past Fleury.  That was the end of Fleury, who was pulled right after. He allowed three goals on 14 shots.

Pittsburgh mailed it in during the third with some late hits and a few scrums. They became frustrated and tried taking it out on Sharks tough guys. Yea, not a good idea. Jay McKee made a run at Jody Shelley, who wasn’t really looking. The two dropped the gloves and Shelley ended up taking McKee down. Well, you think that would be the end for Shelley. He did his job, and can resume his role in the fourth line. Oh, contraire.

Eric Godard tried his hand at Shelley and Mr. Shelley handed Godard’s derriere to him on a bloodied, silver platter. Jersey jabs and right hooks galore from Shelley. Thank you! Come again!

Picture 10

After Joe Pavelski's original shot, Dany Heatley slams the puck home (From SJSHARKS.com)

Jordan Staal, much to Sharks fans’ amazement, took a few runs and delivered an elbow to Douglas Murray. Staal better watch himself in the parking lot. I may not be a big fan of Murray’s, but to deny his skills in fighting and toughness would be ignorant. Come on now Staal. You can’t bring your peach fuzz to a swedish meatball fight.

I got a little worried when the Sharks weren’t putting more goals in. They seemed to be a bit complacent for a stretch in the third, but it was those scrums that fired them back up. So, that would be the only criticism of the night.

I also saw Logan Couture on the penalty kill unit. Can’t say I’ve seen him on it before, but I like he’s getting more ice time. I read that he did move up a couple lines last game to play with Patrick Marleau and Manny Malhotra. Good to hear. (Malhotra, by the way, scored the fifth goal tonight on a shot through a bunch of traffic.)

Home Power Play

The Sharks ranked last in power play efficiency at home, somewhere around five percent. They netted two goals on the man advantage tonight. The entries and forecheck looked better tonight. Passes were sloppy, however, leading to Penguins clears and breakouts.

Injury Bug

NHL GameCenter Live used Pittsburgh’s feed and all the commentators would talk about is how injuries caused their recent play. Give me a break. Take a look at the Sharks who’ve been playing with five key players missing from their lineup, and they still managed to win six in a row. The Penguins just didn’t show effort tonight and looked awful. It won’t kill you to say that.

Other Notes

Hit-O-Meter: SJ 19  PIT 25; Scott Nichol and Murray both led with three hits a piece.

Sidney Crosby now has just one point in four games against the Sharks. Isn’t that great? San Jose has his number, and the Penguins’ number for that matter.

San Jose lost the faceoff battle. They lead the league in faceoff percentage with 56.8, and for them to lose to 19th-ranked Pittsburgh is surprising.

The Sharks get two days off before facing Nashville on Tuesday. The Sharks will look to extend their point-streak to nine games.

–Ray

November 8, 2009 Posted by | Hockey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Inside the Shark Cage, Vol. 17

Quite the great all-around performance by the Sharks in their 5-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes. For San Jose, it’s the fifth straight win, which officially makes them hot.

There’s nothing bad to report from the game. Everybody contributed, including some players who you’d least expect to get on the score sheet. The Sharks received goals from Kent Huskins, Brad Staubitz, Douglas Murray, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Patrick Marleau.

One of those makes sense, but the other five? Yea, that’s not a typo.

The Sharks dominated the first period and Evgeni Nabokov made some spectacular saves. Those saves did come off some bad rebounds, but he made up for them. Everything looked great — breakouts, entry into the offensive zone, board play, effort. It was all there.

Picture 7

Scott Nichol puts on one of his seven hits (From NHL.com)

The Canes scored first on a perfect shot top shelf. Not much any goalie could have done.

Huskins answered on a great individual effort. He pinched in, shot, gathered his own rebound and scored on a wrap-around. He and Demers have been nothing but solid so far, and it was good to see Huskins finally rewarded. Demers picked up his 10th assist on that play.

The fourth line of Shelley-Couture-Staubitz put forth a great effort shortly after, and Staubitz was able to score on a rebound. It was the same for Murray who pinched in and scored on a rebound. That goal was his first in 109 games. Unbelievable how inept he’s been on offense. I still say he is the most overrated player on the team. The fans love him because of his hitting. He only has one big hit a game. I do like his personality, though. Don’t expect many more goals, if any, the rest of the season.

Carolina has now lost nine straight games, if I heard correctly. Zoinks! That’s awful! Add on top of that their star Eric Staal injured himself in the first period, and things couldn’t get much worse. The Canes are interesting. Not sure what to make of this team, which made it to the Conference Finals last season. They have great fans and good players; I wish only the best for them.

Other Notes

Hit-O-Meter: SJ 25  CAR 41; Scott Nichol had seven of those hits. Awesome.

After their hot streak on the power play, things have cooled off. But it’s great to see the Sharks can score just as well even strength. They have found their consistency, so let’s hope the extra days off between next game doesn’t affect them.

The Sharks next game is Wednesday against Columbus, who they beat earlier this season, 6-3.

–Ray

November 1, 2009 Posted by | Hockey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment