Mar 24, 2012; San Jose, CA, USA; San Jose Sharks goalie Antti Niemi (31) stands in front of the goal before the game against the Phoenix Coyotes at HP Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Jason O. Watson-US PRESSWIRE

Why Niemi Isn’t The Issue

Niemi is a good goalie in a lot of ways, and a not so good goalie in others, which isn’t all too dissimilar to most goalies in the NHL to be completely honest. Some goalies are great at covering the angles, others have phenomenal fundamentals. While others don’t rise to the occasion in big situations, or give up juicy rebounds. Nobody can be great at everything, no matter how much we want them to be. And Niemi is certainly no exception. In Chicago he was great at keeping the puck out of the net, but in San Jose he’s had moments where he’s look anything but average. But why?

If you look at the defensive corps they had in Chicago, it was flat out on another planet. Campbell, Keith, Byfuglien, Seabrook, and a young Hjalmarsson; and they all played 77 or more games with the exception of Campbell who played 68 games. But the other thing they had was great team defence that did an amazing job of tying up lose sticks in front of the net and playing man to man everywhere else on the ice. In San Jose we do not have that caliber of defence, not even close. And our team defence has been anything but average since Niemi got here, and he has paid for it more than anybody else in the franchise, save Jay Woodcroft (who I think will get the axe this summer). I believe Niemi is a victim of his surroundings and is being unfairly crucified by the fans and here’s some numbers to back me up.

In Nabby’s last year with us in 2009-10, he posted an impressive record of 44-16-10 in 71 games played with a 2.43 gaa and a .922% and 3 shutouts. That same season Niemi posted a 26-7-4 record in 39 games with a 2.25 gaa and a .912 and 7 shutouts. Very impressive numbers, with the exception of his save %. For the season as a team the Sharks scored 257 goals and allowed 209 while Chicago scored 262 and allowed 203, very comparable numbers. But Chicago was better in the post season which is why they moved on and we didn’t. The following season in San Jose Niemi posted a 35-18-6 record in 60 games with a 2.38 gaa and a .920% with 6 shutouts, better than what Nabokov did the previous season. Good enough to earn us a 2nd trip to the conference finals. As a team in 2010-2011 we scored 243 goals and allowed 208 which are very comparable to the season prior. However the PK% plummeted from 85% in 2009-10, 278/327, to 79.4% in 2010-11, 216/272, representing a 5.6% drop from one season to the next which simply does not happen normally.

Now we all know what happened this year, but for the sake of argument I’ll go over the numbers to round out my point. Niemi posted a record of 34-22-9 in 68 games with a 2.42 gaa and a .915% and 6 shut outs. But the team as a hole scored only 219 goals and allowed 205. So we allowed 3 fewer goals as a team but scored 24 goals fewer. Yes Niemi gave up some softies to be sure, but when your team scores 24 fewer goals year over year it makes it tough to post the same overall record. Also, the PK slipped even further to 76.9%, 173/225. To put the PK numbers in perspective, the last time the Sharks PK was ranked as low as they have the last 2 years was was the year after the lockout in 2005-06 when they 23rd overall and were 1 of 2 teams with less than 400 times being shorthanded with a PK% of 80.7, 322/399. Think about that for just a second.
So before Niemi got here the Sharks were 4th in scoring in the league, and last season they were 13th. Niemi is the type of goalie who needs a great defence in front of him so he only has to focus on the initial save, and maybe a 2nd depending on the shot location. But in San Jose we don’t do that. At least not with the defencive scheme we deploy. We leave the weak side open constantly among many other issues. And because Niemi is a gamer and doesn’t want to let the team down, he plays the shot straight up while trying to cheat over just a little bit to try and make that second save a little easier on him. When in reality he just isn’t good enough to do that. And because he cheats, which ultimately comes from a lack of confidence in the D to do its job, he lets in weak goals.

Now I’m not making excuses for Niemi’s moments of poor goaltending and allowing weak goals, but I am trying to say let’s give the guy a little bit of a break. We had Nabokov for 10 years who was one of the most fundamentally sound goalies to play in the NHL in the last 30 years and he could make those little cheat saves and cover a lot of crease with ease (by sacrificing his 5-hole ultimately). And at the end of the day it’s the team in front of him that’s let him down, not him letting them and us down. So can we please stop calling for Niemi’s head on a platter and trying to run him out of town? Because just like I discussed with the Nash sweepstakes, that will not resolve our problem.

~ BleedingTeal


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Tags: #stats Chicago Blackhawks Nabokov NHL Niemi Penalty Kill San Jose Sharks

  • pimpzilla

    I am not sure you understand goaltending .. there’s a lot more to it than numbers.
    Niemi is a big reason they were not very good last year. Not THE reason .. there is no singular THE reason, just a collection of reasons .. but he is one of them , one of the bigger ones.
    - a goaltender.

  • mute_33


  • mute_33

     @pimpzilla … not in the Playoffs… Niemi has kind of unique style of bending the body way forward. It puts less pressure on the back muscles and gives you more control , but opens top space and makes trajectory of arm movements different and more complex during the save attempt. It definitely played role in his overall performance. Other than that I agree with comment, and relatively to the article – big part of failed defense last season were blown defensive assignments by forwards.

  • Busterbuddy

    I agree the primary reason SJ struggled this year was the scoring. SJ went from 7 to 5 top 6 forwards for most of the season. Trading away about 50 goals hoping to get back about 40, for a big young top D-Man & a big fast Forward, but getting back less then 20.  Burns struggled the first half (enough that Boyle with a broken foot still played big (bad) minutes), Havlat missed camp and the start of the season then another big injury, coming back just a couple of weeks before the playoffs. This changed the team winning chemistry, putting pressure on team defense or goaltending to compensate for less scoring, same win record. That said, long term, probably still make the trades.
    Niemi did start off slow again, which can cause the team to try to over compensate, breakdown a bit defensively. Niemi did have a hot streak, overall he is not a bad goalie, just average, and perhaps a significant part of PK issues, the same system with Nabby was pretty good.  
    What is amazing is that a just little better PK, just one more win and SJ wins the Division and maybe has a very different playoffs. Without Quick, LA does not make the playoffs, or if just one of Dal, Col, or Clg plays .500 the last couple of weeks LA does not make the playoffs, even with Quick. 

  • pimpzilla

     @mute_33  @pimpzilla Mhmmmm actually he gave up couple of the worst goals of the season in the playoffs and all but one of the playoffs goals against couple have been had by a technically sound goaltender,.
    His positioning is horrible, his stance has been getting worse, his recovery time is ridiculously slow.. he basically has shaky fundamentals and lacks the athleticism that would be required to save his butt when his “technique” lets him down.
    He is a big resilient goalie but that is all he has going for him.
    I would dump him at the first chance I had if I were Wilson.Course if I were Wilson I wouldn have never taken him on board to start with. He is by far the worst goalie to win a cup in modern NHL and overall  simply is just a mediocre goalie. 

  • mute_33

     @pimpzilla  well, Chicago did… and he did had some outstanding games in his resume, so consistency is a key here, although, if he’d be able to keep “tall” stand as the base, he’d be able to see his own positioning better… hard to say whether in that age you actually can adjust your playing style.
    Relatively to dumping him… How about giving him more rest between the games and not wait until he puls himself out of the slump as it happens more than once this season? Sharks already have one young goaltender, with Salary Cap and free agents situation, what the alternative there? May be what Niemi has to offer would be just enough if offense will get it going? If turnover leaders will just have little less of it. What if somebody will start interfering with opposite goalie and try to block his vision? What if puck clearing schema will actually developed to the acceptable level?
    What is valuable substitute on market for Niemi? Start Thomas Greiss? I’d try it…. :)

  • pimpzilla

    He had less than handful of good games and they were all against the Sharks .. The rest of the way he was just average, even stunk in a few. That Chicago team was just too good everywhere else. 
    It is not just about the offense going .,.. you’d need a team that is always on offensive, a puck possesion team that dominates the ice time. What is easier? Build an entire team without a hole or find a goalie will less holes than the one you have? 
    Doug should have tried to land Lindback. While he got rusty in Nashville and some say that damaged him , he still has the potential of becoming a far better starter than Niemi. Doug lost out on that. 
    There was a time when Greiss had a lot of potential but Doug screwed the pooch there too with his treatment of Greiss and the lack of solid coaching. Greiss might be damaged goods but I always liked him and I would give him a change to fight for the starter job .. but a real chance. The problem with that is :Dougie trusts Wayner too much and Wayner is an idiot and Todder simply never knew how to handle goalies. So you have an organization that had a number of solid prospects in goal , all sowly turning into crap. Sateri is not learning much on Woostah, Stalock is not the answer some think he is. Sexwithsmith is never going to be a solid NHL starter . hell he might never start a game in NHL.The rest need a lot more cooking and the chef is inadequate. For an Org that, at some point, was priding itself in their goalie development , they are turning into jokes.
    I am sorry .. i got too sidetracked .. but whatever your question was, Niemi isn’t the answer :)