Niemi saves Sharks in first OT


Niemi saves Sharks in first OT

ST. LOUIS One of goaltender Antti Niemis trademarks is that the more action he gets, the stronger he becomes.

That may be true not just in terms starting consecutive games. Niemi got better as Game 1 of the Sharks playoff series against the Blues progressed, culminating with a dominant and game-saving 14 stops in the first overtime that allowed his team to win it in the second extra session.

Niemi, who ended with 40 saves on 42 shots, improved to 8-2 all-time in the playoffs in overtime.

Nemo was great, especially in that first overtime, Dan Boyle said. That was our worst period. He came up with some big saves.

Niemi couldnt be faulted on either of the Blues third period goals, both by Patrik Berglund. The Blues winger tipped a Kevin Shattenkirk shot in the first minute tying the game, and then gave his team the lead when he was left wide open in the slot on an odd-man power play rush.

In fact, Niemi looked like he battled some playoff jitters early in the game, when he struggled with his rebound control in the first seven or eight minutes. Fortunately, the group in front of him cleared the puck from dangerous areas of the ice and it remained 0-0 at the first intermission.

I felt good all the way, and a couple goals in the third I wanted to get back, but I felt good overall, Niemi said.

Second line steps up: The Sharks couldnt keep playing the second overtime the way they had in the first. Ryane Clowe knew it, and so did his linemates, Logan Couture and Marty Havlat.

So, they decided to do something about it.

I think it was pretty obvious we knew what had to be done. It wasnt like anyone was leading the charge. We needed a line to step up, Clowe said. All the guys kind of took it upon themselves after the first overtime.

Just a conversation about how we can defend for another overtime if we want, or we can go play a little bit, play some offense and test this goalie a bit more. Luckily, we ended it quick.

It ended, of course, with Havlats one timer, with assists from Clowe and Couture.

We didnt have a good first overtime, and as a line we didnt, Couture said. We wanted to be better, and its just nice Marty was able to get that one.

Rookies produce key goal: The Sharks fourth line once again became their third line before Game 1 was complete.

The scoresheet shows that Andrew Desjardins, Tommy Wingels and Daniel Winnik saw less ice time than the Dominic Moore-Torrey Mitchell-TJ Galiardi trio, but after getting the game-tying goal in the third period, their playing time gradually increased.

For a team that boasts so much playoff experience, it was a couple of guys with a combined three postseason games coming in (all by Desjardins) that teamed up to tie the game late in the third when Wingels set up his centerman in the slot at 14:44.

It was Desjardins second career playoff goal.

We can talk about the goal, but the 13 or 14 minutes that they played for us was very valuable, McLellan said. Played hard, played smart, Desi was very good in the faceoff circle. Tommy got some power play time, and played an important role on that line.

When you get those two young guys playing together and a veteran like Daniel Winnik, you have a fourth line, or a third line, that you can trust whatever they might be.

Desjardins won six of his seven faceoffs.

The Sharks were able to roll four lines for the duration.

The reward was in the fourth or fifth period. It wasnt necessarily in the second or third period. It was in the fifth period, McLellan said. We did try to get those four lines rolling, and I think it will be an important facet moving forward in this series.

Bad offense, not bad officiating, is main culprit for Sharks' skid

Bad offense, not bad officiating, is main culprit for Sharks' skid

For just the second time this season, the San Jose Sharks have lost consecutive games.

It’s the first time since the club opened the season 0-2, and were outscored 9-4. San Jose played much better in Thursday’s loss to Florida and Saturday’s defeat at the hands of Boston than they did to start the campaign, but have now been on the wrong side of four goal reviews.

The Sharks have lost each of the last two games by two goals, so there’s an understandable temptation to chalk these losses up to questionable officiating. Yet even if you disregard the notion that the officials got each call right (which they did), it’s one that must be resisted.

Their actual lack of offense, not a perceived lack of good officiating, is the main culprit behind the losing streak.

Timo Meier’s goal on Saturday stands as San Jose’s lone tally on this three-game homestand. It’s not for a lack of trying: The Sharks pumped 72 shots on net in the last two games, but could not solve Roberto Luongo or Anton Khudobin.

You can blame the officiating in San Jose’s last two losses all you want, but a good offensive team would have converted subsequent chances to make up for the goals taken off the board. The Sharks have not been a good offensive team this season, and could not make up for it.

San Jose’s inability to finish chances has been their main weakness all season, but they were still able to win games thanks to their defense and goaltending. The latter’s lapsed at times over the last two games, and the former let them down on Saturday when Aaron Dell allowed three goals on only 20 shots.

But that, as well as the discussion around the recent officiating, only serves to mask the Sharks’ real issue. San Jose just simply cannot score.

They’ve only scored on 7.41 percent of their shots this season, according to Natural Stat Trick, which is the third-worst rate in the league. There’s too much talent on the roster to expect that to continue all season, but the Sharks faltered offensively down the stretch last season, too.

Plus, they’re relying significantly on players on the wrong side of 30. Brent Burns, 32, hasn’t scored a goal, and Joe Pavelski, 33, is on pace to score fewer than 20 goals.

He hasn’t failed to reach that mark in a decade. At some point, it must be asked: are the Sharks just unlucky, or is age catching up to their star players?

The answer is probably a bit of both. How much of a role either factor has played is up for debate, but that either has led to San Jose’s failure to score goals is not.

Poor officiating is easier to diagnose than a poor offense, but it’s the latter, not the former, that’s responsible for the Sharks’ most recent skid.

Play of Jones, Khudobin this season proof of how fickle goaltending can be


Play of Jones, Khudobin this season proof of how fickle goaltending can be

Martin Jones was a Boston Bruin for less than a week.

The “Original Six” franchise acquired Jones from the Los Angeles Kings on June 26, 2015. Four days later, Jones was traded back into the Pacific Division, this time to Northern California.

The Sharks gave up a first round pick and prospect Sean Kuraly for Jones. It seemed like a fairly high price at the time, but it’s one San Jose was happy to pay: No goalie started more games than Jones over the last two seasons, and the team signed him to a five-year extension this summer.

The first Jones trade in 2015 set off a flood of goalie transactions, as five netminders were traded during Jones’ extremely brief Boston tenure. One of those was Anton Khudobin, who will start for the Bruins as Jones backs up Aaron Dell against  his “former team” on Saturday night.

Khudobin was traded from Carolina to Anaheim, where he started seven games before getting sent down to the AHL. He then signed with Boston in 2016, returning to his former club as the Bruins tried to fill the hole that trading Jones left behind entrenched starter Tuukka Rask.

Jones and Khudobin will have taken vastly different paths to their respective creases on Saturday night. The former enters the game as his club’s undisputed franchise goalie, and the latter the unheralded backup.

Naturally then, Khudobin’s been the better goaltender this season.

Among the 46 goalies that have played 200 five-on-five minutes this season, Khudobin’s .962 five-on-five save percentage was the best entering Saturday, according to Corsica.  So, too, is his .954 save percentage off of high-danger shots.

Jones, meanwhile, ranks 27th (.920) and 14th (.833) in those respective categories.

What does it all mean? For one, it’s early in the season, and the fact that Khudobin’s made seven fewer starts undoubtedly plays a role in his superior performance to Jones.

Mainly, it speaks to just how fickle goaltending can be.

The Bruins backup is arguably getting the nod Saturday night because of how bad the man ahead of him has been. Rask, once one of the league’s best goaltenders, has steadily declined over the last three years and reached a new low this season: This year, he’s 40th out of 46 qualifying goalies in five-on-five save percentage.

Jones has demonstrated this, too. He’s stopped a lower percentage of low-and-medium danger shots at even strength than the last two seasons, but has stopped a higher percentage of high-danger shots.

Plus, he’s played behind one of the league’s best penalty-killing teams after playing behind one of its worst last season, and has benefitted from a corresponding bump in his shorthanded save percentage.

So much of what a goalie does is out of their control. Yet who’s playing in front of them, what kind of shots they see, and how often they see those shots all can affect their performance.

Khudobin and Jones are living proof of that this season.