Niemi Doing More With Less This Season

Michael Amato




Niemi Doing More With Less This Season

The San Jose Sharks got off to a strong start in 2013 by winning their first seven games. Of course that was overshadowed by the Chicago Blackhawks gargantuan winning streak and before long the Sharks were just an afterthought among early season headlines. They followed that up with seven straight defeats as fans inched their fingers ever closer to the proverbial panic button.

The Sharks, however, have steadied the ship and look poised for another playoff appearance. And as brief as those appearances often are, it's hard to deny just how consistent the team has been in the regular season over the past decade. This year the squad has a different feel about them. San Jose it seems is relying on goaltending more than ever before, and Antti Niemi has not disappointed.

Niemi hasn't received as much attention as Craig Anderson or Sergei Bobrovsky, but his production in 2013 shouldn't be overlooked. Niemi is on pace to set career highs in save percentage (.925) and goals against average (2.14), while currently sitting tied for second in the league with four shutouts and tied for first in wins with 23. The Finnish netminder has also faced the second most shots in the National Hockey League this season behind only Ryan Miller.

Getting peppered with plenty of shots is tough enough, but making difficult stops in pressure situations is even more challenging. And what's more challenging for a goalie than the shootout? Far too often valuable points are lost in this area and those teams that excel have a much greater chance of qualifying for the post-season.

Niemi's play in the individual competition this year has been superb. He leads the league in shootout wins with eight and owns a 3-0 record on the road. To put that in perspective, although Niemi finished third in shootout wins last year, he had just eight victories and has equalled that total in this shortened campaign. Not only that, but Niemi has faced the second most shooters this season with 33. Of those 33 shots, he has only conceded nine goals for a .727 save percentage. That mark ranks third overall among goalies that have faced at least 20 shootout attempts for the year.

It's easy to question the fantasy relevance for shootout statistics in many leagues, but think about it from the standpoint of wins. Obviously the more skilled your goaltender is in this part of the game gives you an advantage to pick up several bonus victories. As valuable as those extra points have been for the Sharks as it relates to the standings, Niemi owners have benefited from the wins as well.

Now the most impressive thing about Niemi's game in 2013 has been his ability to thrive despite the lack of offensive support he has received from the Sharks. Typically San Jose is a scoring juggernaut and although there is still plent