Blackhawks

A Tale of Two Goalies: Niemi trying to find groove

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A Tale of Two Goalies: Niemi trying to find groove

Monday, Nov. 22, 2010
5:10 PM

By Tracey Myers
CSNChicago.com

SAN JOSE, Calif. Antti Niemi has had this matchup with the Chicago Blackhawks in the back of his mind.

The 27-year-old San Jose Sharks goaltender was hoisting the Stanley Cup just a few short months ago. Now, much like the Blackhawks and his new team, hes looking for consistency and confidence in his game.

Could a matchup against his former team boost those?

San Jose coach Todd McLellan said Niemi is a potential starter against the Blackhawks on Wednesday, but Niemi said he hoped that he would be.

Its going to be special seeing those guys, said Niemi, who said hes adjusting to his new team. Its going pretty good. A couple of games couldve gone better.

Niemi has struggled with the Sharks. Signed to a one-year deal in early September, he looked to be the top guy in San Jose. But hes played in just seven of the Sharks 18 games, sporting a 2-4-1 mark and a 3.91 goals-against average. Fellow Finn, Antero Nittymaki, has taken a bulk of the goaltending starts.

McLellan said Niemis confidence level matches the Sharks, who have been inconsistent this season. But his work ethic has been stellar.

He hasnt worked his play up to that level he was at in the playoffs. Obviously hes not as confident as he was then, McLellan said. That doesnt mean he cant get there, doesnt mean hes not working toward it. At this point, he could be our hardest working player, which is a real good sign. I would be worried if he wasnt or if he was going the other way.

Fellow Sharks say Niemi has fit in well.

We havent given him goal support when he has played, so thats definitely made it more a little tough, I think, finding a flow for him. But thats more on us than anything, Joe Pavelski said. As far as working hard, hes earned everyones respect. He probably had it before he even got here.

Niemis hard work last season paid off in the form of the Stanley Cup. In 39 regular-season games, he was 26-7-4 with a 2.25 goals-against average and he usurped Cristobal Huet in postseason starts, where he was 16-6-0.

But a new deal wasnt worked out with him; and when a salary arbitrator awarded him 2.75 million in late July, the Blackhawks let him go and signed Marty Turco for 1.3 million.

I thought I would stay at first but then a couple of a weeks passed and nothing really was happening, he said. So it seemed obvious that its not going to be what I thought.

His start in San Jose probably isnt, either, but Niemi is working hard to get his game and confidence back. He said hes worked on some things with goaltending coach Corey Schwab and is feeling better with the results.

I think it all comes down from your confidence and just being patient out there and not trying too hard, he said. I think thats the No. 1 thing.

Niemi will keep working to try and get that No. 1 job back. Hes acclimated to his new home in every other way, so its probably just a matter of time until the on-ice game is comfortable again, too.

Hes putting a lot of time in his game. The last outings hes been involved in, hes getting more confidence and getting better, said McLellan. When you see how hard he works as a teammate, you appreciate him. He and Nitty, as a pair of Finns, theyre very close and they interact very well together. Were real happy with everything as far as that goes.

Tracey Myers is CSNChicago.com's Blackhawks Insider. Follow Tracey on Twitter @TramyersCSN for up-to-the-minute Hawks information.

Niklas Hjalmarsson gets standing ovation from United Center crowd in Chicago return

Niklas Hjalmarsson gets standing ovation from United Center crowd in Chicago return

Niklas Hjalmarsson played for the Blackhawks for 10 years and won three Stanley Cups with the team so his return to the United Center was a big deal.

The defenseman, now with the Arizona Coyotes, made his return to Chicago in Thursday's game. The Blackhawks had a tribute video for him during the game and the crowd gave him a standing ovation after the video.

He was teary-eyed after getting the warm reception.

Hjalmarsson was traded by the Blackhawks to the Coyotes for Connor Murphy and Laurent Dauphin after the 2016-17 season. He played against the Blackhawks on Oct. 21 and again on Feb. 12 last season, but both games were in Arizona.

Injuries limited Hjalmarsson to 48 games last season and he missed Arizona's only trip to the United Center last season, which came in December.

Watch the video above to see Hjalmarsson's tribute and reaction.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Corey Crawford is BACK, are the Bulls legitimate playoff contenders?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Corey Crawford is BACK, are the Bulls legitimate playoff contenders?

Mark Lazerus and Hub Arkush join David Kaplan on the panel.

The guys discuss Corey Crawford’s return and what it means for the team’s playoff chances.

Khalil Mack misses practice again. The guys debate if it would be better to leave him out vs. the Patriots.

The latest on the MLB playoffs with controversy in Houston and gamesmanship by the Brewers.

Will Perdue and Kendall Gill join the panel to discuss Kris Dunn’s absence from the opener and the team’s playoff chances this season.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below.

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