Monday, Nov. 22, 2010
By Tracey Myers
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.