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NHL Anaheim Ducks

Antti Niemi Gets No Help From Fellow Sharks

For the third time this season the San Jose Sharks were shutout by the Phoenix Coyotes in a 2-0 loss last night.

It was a battle between the goaltenders since the special teams lines from both teams were near absent. Each team only had one penalty committed both in the second period.

On top of the even strength play for all but four minutes of the game the two teams combined for a total of 71 shots.

What made the game difference was Phoenix scored their first goal on their lone power play of the night. Coyote Radim Vrbata sent a wrist shot past Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi who received minimal help from his teammates.

Vrbata also scored the final goal assisted both times by left-winger Ray Whitney. That one line made a difference in San Jose’s loss but also allowing 38 shots on Niemi wasn’t much help either.

Only four goalies in the top 10 in the NHL for most shots against are currently sitting in the playoff race. Then the only goalie in those four who have clinched a playoff spot is Nashville Predators goalie Pekka Rinne. The other three goalies are seventh or eighth in their conference fighting for a playoff spot.

Antti Niemi is tenth in the NHL for most shots against this season. If the Sharks plan on making the playoffs and even trying going deeper in a playoff run the defense needs to control puck, slow down their game, avoid turnovers and get the puck out of the zone.

Niemi has been having a strong season. In 64 games played he has 31 wins, five shutouts, .914 save percentage and a 2.43 goals against average.

Niemi even has a better save percentage than when he won the Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2009-10. The problem is he is also averaging three shots more against him per game than he did back with the Blackhawks.

It isn’t just the shots against Niemi though because he has proved he can save almost all of them. The Sharks past two losses he was only scored on twice each game. San Jose on the other hand only scored once in those two games.

The Sharks next four games of the season are make or break for them. Their next two games are against the division leading Dallas Stars who are only one point ahead of the Sharks.

Then their last two games of the year will be against the Los Angeles Kings who are tied with them in points and have played one game less than the Sharks.

Stars goaltender Kari Lehtonen is no slouch and these must-win games are going to require more shots than their opponents to try pulling out the win and into the playoffs.