Antti Niemi: “It’s The Best I Think”

SAN JOSE- How does the saying go? Pitching and defense wins championships? Or as in the case of the Sharks, goaltending and defense?

If you are a believer in this old adage that defense and pitching/goaltending/running game wins championships, then you ought to be a believer in this year’s edition of the San Jose Sharks.

Team Teal is off to a 6-0 start in this shortened season and are the last remaining undefeated team in the league. And while they feature a tremendously talented set of forwards that can put the puck in the net, their blue-line is also dynamic, and deep, to boot.

When you consider San Jose’s GAA is just 1.67 and that they have allowed just five even strength goals in their first six games, they must be doing something right when it comes to keeping the puck out of their own net.

At the morning skate on Thursday I asked goaltender Antti Niemi if this year’s blue-line is the strongest since he became a Shark:

“Yeah obviously we’ve played well, especially our d, actually the whole team, but it’s only a couple games so we just got to stay there” he said. “For now, it’s been the best I think.”

Niemi, and Thomas Greiss have back-stopped the Sharks with impressive numbers themselves, combining for a .942 save percentage (174 shots faced, only 10 goals allowed) but the defense deserves a lot of credit.  On paper it’s a unit that is as good as any in the league and it’s showing up on the ice.

Captain Joe Thornton had plenty to say when asked if the blue-line was the deepest since he’s been with the Sharks.

“Yeah with Matty Irwin playing the way he is, I think he’s shocked a lot of people how he’s just stepped in and played real, real good right off the bat and not having Burnzie and Jay [Jason Demers] for this long, it shows we have got a lot of depth back there. Even with Boiler out, Nick Petrecki came in and played good as well. It’s nice to see that we got so many guys back there that can play.”

Speaking to what Thornton talked about in terms of Dan Boyle missing the Ducks contest with the flu, one has to remind themselves that the Sharks won that game with Boyle, Burns, and Demers all out of the lineup. And while it certainly wasn’t their best game defensively, the fact they can stay competitive and keep a team like Anaheim to just two goals without them is a testament to their defensive depth.

Over the course of the first couple weeks of the season, I’ve piled up some quotations from arguably the three most important members of that blue-line and they all seem very pleased with the group they have.

Boyle on if it’s the deepest blue-line since his arrival:

“Possibly, yeah. I really like what we have back there. Obviously we got to do it on the ice but on paper it looks pretty solid.”

Marc-Edouard Vlasic on if it’s the deepest:

“It’s deep, we’ve had deep blue-lines before but I think guys are playing the system, playing together and when everyone plays together good things happen. We got nine D that can play on any given night and that helps a lot going forward.”

Brad Stuart on blue-line depth:

“Our depth is being tested, we’ve got a couple guys down and other guys have stepped in and done a great job. We got a kid in Matty Irwin who does a great job for us. He’s stepped in and played some good minutes for us. That’s important, duration of a season you need that. It just so happened to us that it happened to us right at the start. It’s a good sign for us that even though we have some injuries we’ve been able to overcome them.”

 

You can contact Andrew at abensch@insidehockey.com or you can follow him on twitter: @ViewFromBensch

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