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Sharks Gameday: Antti Matters

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San Jose Sharks
@ Washington Capitals

Tuesday, Feb 8, 2011, 4:00 PM PST
Verizon Center

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Hey, remember when I did a "Choose Your Own Adventure" post about the Sharks goaltending situation? It looks like I missed a possible storyline. Something like:

You have disturbed the treasures of Rob Blake's tomb, and your goalies have been afflicted with a terrible curse!

Antero Niittymaki has problems. You've heard of boxers having a glass jaw? Well Niittymaki seems to have a glass groin. He hurt it in a pregame skate weeks ago and keeps re-injuring it every time he's almost ready to come back. The Sharks would be complete fools to try and rush him back before he was ready, even in a backup role, so most likely he won't play tonight.

Alex Stalock, awesome hope for the Sharks' goaltending future, got his damn leg STEPPED ON and will need surgery to repair a severed nerve. That's just terrible. Many Sharks fans were hoping this guy would get more NHL starts and then he suffers a freak accident in the minors that ends his season and could potentially cause further problems for him down the line. We never should have taken those golden elbow pads out of Blake's tomb! 

So who's left to back up Antti Niemi? Carter Hutton, who was Stalock's backup, has decent AHL numbers. He's signed to a one-year contract with the Sharks. There's also Tyson Sexsmith, currently playing for the Stockton Thunder. Sexsmith, aside from having a totally bitchin' last name, has considerable success throughout his minor league career, but is still very young and totally unproven at anything close to an NHL level.

Antti Niemi, you're our man. Even if Niittymaki is ready to return in another week or so, I doubt we'll be seeing him play more than one game a week at the most for the next couple of months, with the risk of aggravating his injury ultra-high.

Honestly, things could be worse. If Niemi was struggling right now like he was earlier in the season, the Sharks would basically be doomed. Luckily he's rounded into form, becoming one of the most consistent parts of the Sharks lineup throughout the past few months of the season. Even during the team's recent losing streak most nights you couldn't blame Niemi, as the team just wasn't showing up with goal support. During this last stretch of victories, as the Sharks have started shooting a lot less than they used to as they all try to learn to block shots and play defense, Niemi has had to work hard to keep the team in games. So far, so good.

Will fatigue be a factor with Niemi? With the Blackhawks last season Niemi played 39 regular season games and 22 playoff games, and didn't seem to slow down towards the end. He's already played 32 games this year with the Sharks, and there is still a good amount of the season left. Make sure you remember to take your vitamins, Antti.

Prediction: Sharks win 3-0, with goals from Logan Couture, Ben Eager, and Joe Thornton. Niemi combines with Antti-Niemi and explodes, leaving behind a being of pure goaltending skill that carries the Sharks on to glorious victory.