Just prior to puck-drop against the Chicago Blackhawks on Monday night, I tweeted that I was a little surprised to see Antti Niemi get the start in net for the San Jose Sharks. I felt as though he was due for an “off” night, being his 25th consecutive start, and that we’d might see Antero Niittymaki between the pipes. Sure, playing in Chicago against the team he went the distance with is an emotional situation for Niemi and it gives him motivation etc., but I feel like that scenario has already been exhausted. At that point in the season, Niemi had not lost to his former club and had won a game in their barn against them.
Well, it turns out that we did get to see Niittymaki in net for the first time since his string of lower-body injuries after Niemi was chased from the net by his former squad. As much as I would love to criticize Niemi, the Sharks had failed to continue doing what had been making them so successful recently. They did, however, receive a 5 on 3 powerplay at the beginning of the 1st period – which Joe Pavelski scored on – and scored a shorthanded goal to end the period up 2-1. It looked like Chicago had a game-plan on Niemi (funneling pucks towards his five-hole), which they stuck to throughout the first and erupted for five goals during the 2nd period.
Looked like the Sharks were allowing too many odd-man rushes and open lanes to the net, so when you’re facing guys like Toews, Kane, Sharp, and Hossa goals will be scored. The end result was a 6-3 loss that should be an eye-opener to Westen Conference teams for how much the Blackhawks have improved this season.
Tuesday night in Dallas saw a similar wide-open style of play as seen in the game against Chicago. Niemi got the start again, stopping 34 of the 37 shots faced. Despite falling behind 2-0 in the second period, the Sharks managed to tie the game before the second stanza concluded, then scored four in the 3rd period (including two empty net goals) to cap off a 6-3 game of their own. Joe Pavelski ended up with 4 assists in the game and Dallas’ Jamie Benn continued his assault on the NHL with a goal and two helpers.
This divisional game was very physical and saw its fair share of headshots that will surely be addressed Wednesday. The only shot I saw clearly, and with a replay, was Dany Heatley’s elbow to the head of Steve Ott. I wouldn’t be surprised if Heatley gets 2-4 games for the play. Ott was not carrying the puck and Heatley went out of his way to extend his elbow and made contact with the head. Not only was the penalty selfish, but it was dirty, unnecessary, and it has no business being in hockey. Highlights of the incidents can be found on tsn.ca.
The Sharks will return home to face the Minnesota Wild on Thursday night. Holding down the #3 seed, San Jose is three points ahead of the Kings and Coyotes and sit two points behind the Red Wings for the #2 seed, but Detroit has two games in hand.
About the Author
Written by Alex Wasserstrom
Native Californian, former minor league pro, and current men's league superstar, Alex Wasserstrom is ProSportsBlogging.com's San Jose Sharks correspondent. Wanna talk puck? Shoot him an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or follow him on Twitter (@Awassers).