One of the best goalies in the NHL plays for a California team. He also happens to have a Stanley Cup ring.
Actually, that description applies to two netminders in the Golden State. I’m guessing that most people would think “Jonathan Quick” when they hear those first two sentences, at least if it weren’t for the photo and headline giving everything away.
Regardless, it’s easy to miss in sunny San Jose, but Antti Niemi is putting up the kind of numbers one would expect from a guy like Quick.
Does that make Niemi underrated? Maybe, maybe not; that phrase gets thrown around a lot. How about this: let’s call him hype-deprived, instead.
Monday seems fitting because Niemi collected a 24-save shutout, the 24th of his career - not bad since he’s only played four full seasons in the NHL - yet his goose egg didn’t even draw the most attention. Instead, Jean-Sebastien Giguere’s blanking of the Pittsburgh Penguins (deservedly) stole the headlines.
We’ll get back to that, but before we dive into game summaries and whatnot, let’s eye where Niemi rests in the goalie ranks.
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Since the Sharks snatched Niemi from the Chicago Blackhawks, Niemi has developed into one of the league’s genuine workhorses.
Niemi has played in 180 games with the Sharks beginning in the 2010-11 season, generating 101 wins. He tied for the most wins last season with 24, was alone at ninth with 34 in 2011-12 and tied for ninth with 35 in 2010-11.
He played in the fifth-most games (68) in 2011-12 and the second-most last season (43).
(Quick aside: it’s amusing to remember that Niemi had to fight off Antero Niittymaki for a bit to secure San Jose’s starting job in his first season. If you’re wondering what happened to him, the long answer is that I don’t know exactly what’s going on in 2013-14, but he played for TPS Turku in 2012-13. The short answer is “he got injured a lot.”)
And, like I mentioned before, Niemi has that Stanley Cup ring with Chicago, which I imagine a surprising amount of hockey fans have forgotten … or not given Niemi any real credit for.
His hefty games played and wins make him pretty much fantasy elite, but what about the stats that aren’t as dependent on playing for a quality team like the Sharks?
The easiest way to judge a goalie’s individual work is to look at his save percentage, as GAA doesn’t factor in degree of difficulty and so on. It turns out that Niemi is pretty strong in individual areas too.
I put together spreadsheets with goalie stats from the last three seasons, which you can peruse at your leisure. Check out how’s he done in save percentage overall (note: rankings include some guys with smaller workloads, so he’d rank higher among more regular starters).
2012-13: tied for seventh with a .924 save percentage
2011-12: tied for 22nd with .915
2010-11: 13th with .920
Many believe that total save percentages aren’t quite as indicative of quality goaltending as even-strength save percentage, as poor penalty killing can be a problem. Niemi’s just fine in even-strength save percentage, too:
2012-13: 15th with a .930 even-strength save percentage
2011-12: 26th with a .926 ES
2010-11: tied for seventh with a .931 ES
If those numbers aren’t elite, they’re awfully close. Not surprisingly, Niemi is strong at even-strength (.942) and overall (.930) so far in 2013-14.
This is all good stuff, even if he’s bound to dip - San Jose started hot and hit a big cold streak last season, for one thing - but chances are, he’ll generate quality work as long as he’s healthy. Too bad Niemi probably won’t slip under the radar much longer.
After the jump: game summaries, suspensions and injuries.
SAN JOSE 1, DETROIT 0 (SO)
-- Jimmy Howard got credit for a shutout (27 saves) too, but not the win. On Sunday, I wondered aloud if someone might track perfect relief performances, which are basically quasi-shutouts. It would be nice if someone would also count how many shutouts happen in situations like Howard's, where he doesn't get credit for the win because of the skills competition. On the bright side, Howard has now played two games since returning from his hand injury, though he's failed to win either. Might Jonas Gustavsson steal a few more starts?
-- Tomas Hertl has slowed down a tiny bit, but don't fault him for a lack of effort on Monday, as he had four SOG in 16:16 time on ice.
-- Tyler Kennedy isn't a huge fantasy factor, yet he still might be due; he only has one goal on 21 shots.
-- The Sharks traded for Mike Brown. Might be a guy to watch for PIM here and there, but he’s generally irrelevant.
COLORADO 1, PITTSBURGH 0
-- What a start to the season for Jean-Sebastien Giguere, who could make himself a pretty penny - maybe secure a platoon gig next season - if he can have more nights like Monday's 34-save bit of greatness. He already has two shutouts and three wins in his three games, making 101 out of 103 saves.
-- No shock that the Avs boast the league's best total save percentage at 97.2. That's almost 10 percent better than Edmonton's league worst 87.8 mark. It’s not shocking that Colorado’s generally tops in “lucky” stats while mediocre-to-bad in possession-type numbers.
-- Gabriel Landeskog has a three-game goal streak with an assist thrown in for good measure. In the past two games, he's scored a goal on one SOG.
-- Bonus points to Giguere, as the Penguins failed to score despite the Avs taking seven power plays.
-- Don't blame Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin for a lack of effort last night. Crosby's season-opening eight-game point streak (17 overall) ended, but he fired seven SOG on Giguere. Malkin generated eight SOG himself (he might miss James Neal a bit).
-- Marc-Andre Fleury finally lost a game, but he's still having an outstanding start, including a .930 save percentage.
CALGARY 3, LOS ANGELES 2
-- Every goal in this game came on special teams (three power-play goals for Calgary, one PP for Los Angeles and one PK for the Kings).
-- Decision time is just about up for Sean Monahan, so it's nice that he scored a goal.
-- Again, though, Jiri Hudler's a safer bet. He has 11 points in eight games and (a point in every game so far). He's eclipsed 23 minutes of ice time twice and 22 two more so far in 2013-14. Hudler is still just 52 percent owned.
-- Michael Cammalleri made his season debut, scoring a goal and an assist. The Hudler rule applies here: someone has to score.
-- Jonathan Quick had a nice two games before yesterday's loss to Calgary, but all three of the goals he allowed were on the penalty kill.
INJURIES (full list) AND QUICK HITS
Michael Grabner will sit out two games for his hit on Nathan Gerbe. It's a shame, too, as the speedy winger has a point per game (eight in eight) so far ... Cody McLeod received a five-game suspension for that boarding hit on Niklas Kronwall. Kronwall could be back as soon as Wednesday ... Stay tuned for updates regarding Patrick Kaleta ... Chris Kreider could get a nice opportunity on the Rangers’ top line. He’s worth monitoring … Kari Lehtonen should finally be back to action, as the Stars just activated him from the IR … Dustin Penner isn't traveling with the Anaheim Ducks yet. He seems OK in the big picture, but seems out indefinitely. He seemed like he was going to get a legit chance with Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf, too ... Brandon Prust (shoulder) could be out about a month ... Brent Burns skipped last night's game after getting a puck to the mouth ... Ryan Smyth is banged up, maybe just to fit in with Edmonton’s black and blue players … Jim Slater is day-to-day with an undisclosed injury ... Congrats to Roman Hamrlik on a lengthy NHL career, with 1,395 career regular season games. He was the top pick of the 1992 NHL Draft … Patrik Elias might not have the “flu.” Stunning, I know … It looks like the Flames' platoon pendulum has swung in Karri Ramo's direction … The Islanders placed Lubomir Visnovsky (concussion) on the IR.
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