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.

Blackhawks make another change, fire Rockford coach Ted Dent

Blackhawks make another change, fire Rockford coach Ted Dent

Ted Dent was another longstanding member of the Blackhawks' organization. On Tuesday, he was the latest to be let go.

Dent, head coach of the Rockford IceHogs for the past six seasons, was fired on Tuesday morning. Dent spent a total of 11 years in the organization; he was the IceHogs' assistant coach for five seasons before taking the head coaching job for the 2011-12 season.

Just over a year ago, the Blackhawks gave Dent a three-year contract extension that was set to run through the end of the 2018-19 season.

"The Chicago Blackhawks thank Ted for all of his contributions throughout his tenure with the organization," Blackhawks general Manager Stan Bowman said. "He played a major role in helping a number of players reach the NHL level with the Chicago Blackhawks, many of whom became Stanley Cup champions. We wish Ted and his family the best."

The IceHogs didn't have the depth this season they had in previous years, and they struggled all season en route to a 25-39-9-3 record. The struggles got worse after the March 1 trade deadline, when the Blackhawks sent Spencer Abbott and Sam Carrick to the San Diego Gulls (Anaheim Ducks AHL affiliate). At the time, Abbott led the IceHogs in points with 35 (15 goals, 20 assists) and Carrick was second with 28 points (11 goals 17 assists).

After the two were traded, the IceHogs went 4-12-1.

It's the second consecutive day in which the Blackhawks fired a member of their organization's coaching staff. Mike Kitchen, the Blackhawks' assistant coach since 2010, was fired on Monday. Kitchen and head coach Joel Quenneville have been friends going back to their NHL playing days, when the two were teammates with the Colorado Rockies and the New Jersey Devils. Kitchen was also part of Quenneville's coaching staff in St. Louis.

Blackhawks fire assistant coach Mike Kitchen

Blackhawks fire assistant coach Mike Kitchen

When Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman addressed the media on Saturday, he said that there would be change. That started on Monday when assistant coach Mike Kitchen was fired.

The move came five days after the Blackhawks were swept out of the first round by the Nashville Predators. Bowman said in a statement that, “we believe this decision is best for our organization moving forward. Mike had an impact on two different Stanley Cup championship teams during his tenure in Chicago. We appreciate his many contributions and wish he and his family success in the future.”

Kitchen has been a member of coach Joel Quenneville’s staff since 2010. The two go back to their playing days, however, when they were teammates with the Colorado Rockies and also the New Jersey Devils. Kitchen was Quenneville’s assistant when the two were with the St. Louis Blues and when Quenneville was fired as Blues coach midway through the 2003-04 season, Kitchen was promoted to head coach.

As part of the Blackhawks’ staff Kitchen’s focus on special teams, mainly the penalty kill. That kill finished the regular season 24th overall in the league, although that has to come with an asterisk. The penalty kill started the 2016-17 season so poorly that it was never going to get too far out of the basement. It did get stronger as the season wore on, and it was fourth overall during the Blackhawks’ short stay in the playoffs.