CSNBayArea.com asserts it’s a virtual certainty that goalie Antti Niemi will lead the Sharks onto the ice for their season opener in Calgary on Sunday. Niemi is less than two years removed from helping the Sharks reach the Western Conference finals in 2011, and it’s been less than three years since he raised the Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks.
But, the 2011-12 campaign was a step backwards. Although Niemi finished with decent numbers (34-22-9, 2.42 GAA, .915 SP), he was unable to find the consistency down the stretch that allowed him to succeed in those aforementioned seasons.
“I have to get better at staying at my better level,” the 29-year-old Niemi said on Wednesday at Sharks Ice. “A season like this, there shouldn’t be any stretch where I’m not playing well. I think last year on that long road trip, I had some troubles in February. I especially remember that Tampa game (a 6-5 shootout loss in which he made just 19 saves on 24 shots).
“We had a tough road trip, and so did I. I have to be at my best every night.”
Niemi found work during the lockout in Finland, suiting up for 10 games in the SM-liiga for Lahti Pelicans, where he played from 2005-08. It was important to see some pucks in a real competition with the NHL lockout dragging into February, he said.
“It was just a great experience going back to my old team for a month and get 10 games, lots of games. I think it was great for me to get used to the game speed, even if it’s a different league.”