Despite the fact that the season ended with the typical playoff disappointment, there were quite a few positives to take away from the 2013 campaign for the San Jose Sharks. Perhaps the largest of those positives was the play of Vezina Trophy finalist Antti Niemi between the pipes.
In fact, Niemi had the best season of his career for the Sharks and the best regular season of his career for any team. When the Sharks fizzled out midway through the year and the playoffs became a question, Niemi kept performing. He carried them through several points during the season.
His final numbers on the season were among the league’s best, an obvious statement given his status as one of the final three in the running for the Vezina Trophy. While he didn’t take home the hardware, an argument certainly could have been made in favor of him, given his .924 save percentage and 2.16 goals against average.
Niemi logged big minutes in 2013. He played more minutes than any other player in the league, in fact, starting an absurd 43 of 48 games for the Sharks, mostly due to uncertainty behind him. But while it was a shortened season, Niemi showed he could handle a large majority of the starts and still be successful.
In 2013-14, he’s going to have to prove he can do that in a full season. The Sharks still don’t have a completely capable backup, so it’s going to be on Niemi to carry this team at times during the season. Whether or not he can do that over a full 82-game campaign remains to be seen.
Niemi’s first two seasons with the Sharks weren’t exactly stellar. He was inconsistent, particularly in 2011-12, where he posted a .915 save percentage, and a GAA up at 2.42. Whether or not the 2013 season saw him turn a corner, or he simply benefited from the shortened season remains to be seen.
And that’s what he’s going to have to prove in the 2013-14 season. That he can maintain that success over a full season.