After Stanley Cup winning goaltender Antti Niemi recently signed a deal with the Sharks, San Jose now has two solid options between the pipes. Niemi will join another new addition, Antero Niittymaki, who signed with the Sharks in July.
Niemi won the Stanley Cup last year with the Chicago Blackhawks as a rookie. Although he played only half a season, he was able to play an impressive postseason. The Blackhawks were very good defensively and provided a lethal offense last year. The combination of the Hawks’ talent and the excitement of a rookie season contributed to his impressive performance during the last season and postseason.
Niemi is joining the Sharks who have been defensively strong and offensively potent in the past few years. He is also playing in front of an electric fan base in San Jose, which will help his energy level stay closer to what is was last year. With that combination, the Sharks will be a formidable opponent.
Niemi was a solid goaltender during parts of the game when there were no feelings of desperation, a change from Evgeni Nabokov. Being strong during those moments is important for keeping the rest of the team at ease and helps avoid situations in which the Sharks must fight back from behind. Just as importantly, he is able to step up in big ways during big moments, including overtime. The Sharks were looking for a goaltender who can hold his own sixty minutes of every game regardless of the game’s pace and the team’s energy level.
Niittymaki, the other addition between the pipes this summer, also has the potential to play very well; however, that level of play has not been seen since his gold medal appearance in Torino, Italy for the 2006 Finnish Olympic Team, taking place the same year as his strong performances with the Philadelphia Flyers.
Expect the Sharks to split the starts evenly between Niemi and Niittymaki for the first part of the season. The idea would be to keep both goaltenders fresh for the playoffs. As the season progresses, one of the two will be favored to start the more important or the more challenging games in preparation for the playoffs. The freshness of the goaltending will help give the Sharks an edge during the playoffs assuming both can stay focused throughout the season and postseason.
Come crunch time, however, I expect the Sharks to choose Niemi. He has showed that he has the ability to keep his team in each game with his cup win last year. However, the Sharks will watch out for beginners luck and could be quick to switch to Niittymaki. He has played in only two playoff games and a total of only 73 minutes both with Philadelphia. He may be the goaltender with an extra edge due to the excitement of his first time leading a team in the playoffs.
Either way Niemi and Niittymaki are both just a part of the Turnover in the Tank.