Boy am I ever glad the Sharks signed Antti Niemi this off-season. I was confused by the move at the time, and during Niemi's struggles to start the season it seemed like a waste, but recent events have proven the wisdom of Doug Wilson.
Niemi has been rock solid, but there's more to the story than that. The Sharks have really concentrated on defense for the past few games, blocking more shots and limiting their opponents' chances. Case in point: against Washington the Sharks only allowed four shots in the second period, and out-shot the Capitals 36-25 for the game.
The Sharks only scored two goals, but that was due in large part to Capitals goalie Michal Neuvirth, who played a great game. The Sharks generated the bulk of the chances and could have had several more goals if Neuvirth hadn't been having such a stellar night.
Ben Eager has really been a great addition to the Sharks. It seems like it took a while for Todd McLellan to figure out what to do with Eager, as in his first few games with the team he averaged about five minutes of ice time. In his last four games, however, Eager's ice time looks like this:
vs. PHX: 10:51
vs. ANA: 11:54
vs. BOS: 12:04
vs. WSH: 13:15
I'm not sure what the upper limit to this is, but since Eager has scored three points in the last four games it sure looks like playing him more is working. Watching the game against Anaheim from Earl's awesome Row B seats I definitely noticed Eager every time he was out there: he plays angry and goes after the puck with a vengeance, and when paired with Logan Couture makes a line that has been the most dangerous on the ice in recent games.
Speaking of Logan Couture: WOOOOOOOOOO! Calder Trophy, here we come!
With back-to-back games, we will really get a chance to see how "healed" Antero Niittymaki really is. If he's 100%, he should get the start, but if his groin still feels a little funny (and not in a good way) then they'll probably put Niemi in again and hope he stays sharp.
Prediction: 4-2. Niemi plays. Goals by Couture, Eager, Thornton, and Murray.