Calgary Stampede

The Calgary Stampede isn’t supposed to start until next summer.

The Calgary Flames hosted the San Jose Sharks last night, and summarily trampled them in front of a noisy Scotiabank Saddledome.  The frenzied crowd was in a fervor usually reserved for playoff games, Lanny McDonald sightings, and of course, times when Corey Sarich is handing out free lobotomies to guys like Patrick Marleau.

Everyone’s favorite Finnish sieve, Antti Niemi, managed to bring his game to an even lower level last night.  Niemi allowed three goals in his first five shots, and was hogtied by Coach Todd McLellan in favor of Antero Niittymaki before the first period had even concluded.

Three goals in five shots?  Seriously?  A .400 batting average will make you a legend in baseball, but in terms of your save percentage?  Not exactly what we’re all looking for here Antti.

Each successive start by Niemi pours more fuel on the goalie controversy as “the last piece of the San Jose Sharks puzzle” continues to show himself more worthy of playing in some Finnish beer league versus manning a top 5 NHL hockey club.

Granted, I am being hard on Niemi, but the San Jose Sharks signed this guy to be an answer, and certainly never imagined he’d become a problem.  Niemi’s one year deal was not a “you grow with us, we’ll grow with you” arrangement, it was a win now arrangement.  In bringing Niemi in on the short term contract, the Sharks were hiring a playoff star, a tier-one mercenary who moved in the shadows and stopped a ton of rubber along the way.

What they have, up until this point, is a guy who couldn’t work parking lot security at a Helsinki Celine Dion concert.

In defense of Niemi, I should be heaving an equal amount of criticism on Doug Wilson for creating a goalie problem where we had none, and then “solving” this problem by firing the Sharks’ best player in Evgeny Nabokov.  Would signing Nabokov have precluded the Sharks from resigning players currently on this team?  Perhaps, but goalie is such a rare and valuable commodity. Finding a good one is difficult, finding a great one is next to impossible and replacing that great one with a hot name on the cheap…just because that hot name used to work for the team that whooped your butt in the playoffs last year is also not working.

Moving forward, Antero Niittymaki should get the starts.  He stabilized the action last night after Niemi’s shelling, and has done nothing to show that he is only the second best goalie on the San Jose Sharks.

Not that the team offered either goaltender any assistance last night.

After pummeling the Edmonton Oilers 6-1, with goals from six different San Jose players, the team came out flat and unready to play professional hockey last night and were skunked.  They lacked leadership, they lacked hustle and it’s just plain awkward watching this team right now as they so little resemble the San Jose Sharks that have sparkled at HP Pavilion in the past.

Their totally maddening, inconsistent play…where they go out and paste a team one night and then become the pastee the very next night is more resembling of a plucky 8th seed playoff squad, not one of the supposed best teams in the Western Conference.

They have until Wednesday night to get their act together when they host the New Jersey Devils and their $100 million dollar healthy scratch, Ilya Kovalchuk.  And as inconsistent as the Sharks have been, the Devils are extremely consistent…albeit consistently bad.

In even worse shape than the Sharks, New Jersey has two wins in their first nine games and are in a complete tailspin.   The Sharks need to come out, beat this team soundly, and work towards distilling down this confusing, inconsistent mess of play into a winning identity.  A nice start would be beating Martin Brodeur at the Tank.

Brodeur may have lost his fastball, but he is still one of the best goaltenders to ever play the game.  The Sharks need to quickly seize upon a winning mentality against Brodeur, lest they drift back into a more permanent residence in the middle of the Pacific Division.

Tags: Antero Niittymaki Antti Niemi Calgary Flames Doug Wilson Edmonton Oilers Evgeni Nabokov HP Pavilion Ilya Kovalchuk Lanny Mcdonald NHL Patrick Marleau San Jose Sharks Scotiabank Saddledome Todd Mclellan

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