The 2013-14 season proved to be one of the worst of Antti Niemi’s career as I am sure all Sharks fans are aware of. After coming off of a season in which Niemi was a Veniza Trophy finalist, expectations from the fans and management were through the roof. Clearly, they were a bit too high for the sixth-year, one-Stanley Cup goaltender to handle.
In 64 regular season games, Niemi posted a 39-17-7 record with a .913 save percentage and 2.39 goals against average. Every single one of these numbers, except the record, are significantly worse from Niemi’s shortened season campaign. Granted, shortened seasons don’t usually produce accurate statistics because of the small sample size, but still the large margin of difference says something about Niemi’s drop off during this season.
Despite the numbers being low ones for Niemi, he still was tied for second among all goaltenders in the regular season in wins, so clearly he is able to pull out wins even if he isn’t on the top of his game. Sharks fans can’t really be mad at Niemi for his poor play because he is still in the top half of goaltenders when he is not fully on his game.
We know that Niemi has the potential to be the best goaltender in the entire NHL, and we almost saw that last year. There really is no problem in the goaltenders that the Sharks currently have in their lineup. Niemi will get back to his regular form and then the Sharks will have two great goaltenders to deploy when needed. Other teams would love to be in that situation.
The negatives on Niemi’s season are pretty obvious: he didn’t get even close to playing well in the playoffs and he was inconsistent throughout the entire 2013-14 campaign.
In the playoffs, Niemi’s underwhelming performance in Game 1 was hidden beneath the Sharks’ explosive offense on that night. However, Niemi, in Games 4, 5, 6, and 7 went 0-4 and was utterly atrocious in each one. He was pulled twice and didn’t start Game 6 in favor of backup, Alex Stalock. Throughout all seven games against Los Angeles, Niemi’s save percentage was .884 and his goals against average was 3.74. I hate to say it, but numbers like these do not win Stanley Cups and Niemi will have to play better in the playoffs for the Sharks if he wants to win the ultimate prize in San Jose.
The regular season also proved to be a bit of a struggle for Niemi this year. Towards the beginning of the season, things weren’t really that bad and his off-games were just considered outliers by the public. However, as the season progressed, Niemi began to have “off” nights more consistently and many analysts and fans questioned his abilities as a starting goaltender. Stalock’s performances were rock solid throughout the year and many people wanted Todd McLellan to give him the nod each night. Was Niemi worked too hard or was he just having a bad year? We will never know.
After the Sharks’ incredibly painful playoff exit, many are speculating about Niemi’s fate in regards to what team he will call himself a part of next year. If Niemi does indeed become the scapegoat for the Sharks playoff exit, he will have left San Jose on a poor note. That is all up to the GM, Doug Wilson.
The best Antti Niemi moment of the year was the shootout save that preserved one of his four shutouts. Todd Bertuzzi’s reaction to this save describes it perfectly.