Sharks goaltending system struggling during the early season

Sharks goaltending prospect Al Stalock in a preseason game from earlier this year.

In six games this season, current Sharks backup goaltender Antti Niemi has had his issues. A 3.73 GAA and .878 SV% isn't what the organization had in mind when they signed him to a one-year $2.00 MM contract this season, and in turn, has caused some of the conversation to turn to goaltenders who could potentially replace him.

The likelihood of San Jose giving up on him fifteen games into the year is extremely low however-- the Sharks view Niemi as a viable NHL goaltender who will play a big part in their quest to win some hardware this spring, due to his credentials last season as starting goaltender for the Stanley Cup winning Chicago Blackhawks. His recent play in games against St. Louis and Calgary has shown some improvement, and work with Corey Schwab and Wayne Thomas early in the season has focused on rebound control.

Niemi's issues with rebounds and shots up high is something we highlighted as an issue for the 27 year old Finn at the time of his signing, but it's clear he has taken time to improve that part of his game-- his glove hand was ever present during last night's tilt against the Flames, and although his lateral movement from post to post still leaves ample area of the upper half of the net uncovered due to his signature style of hunching his shoulders and head over his skates, more work in practice throughout the year can rectify those errors.

Whether it can be done remains to be seen, but the last two games are a step in the right direction.

As for the rest of San Jose's goaltenders in their historically strong system, there hasn't been a whole lot of success thus far outside Antero Niittymaki, at least in terms of guys most of us are familiar with:


San Jose Sharks Goaltenders

Player
League GP
MIN
W
L OTL SO GAA SV%
Antero Niittymaki
NHL
10
600
6
1
2
0
1.80
.929
Antti Niemi
NHL
6
306
2
4
0
0
3.73
.878
Al Stalock
AHL
12
649
5
5
1
0
2.96
.893
Carter Hutton
AHL
3
181
1
0
1
0
2.32
.938
Tyson Sexsmith
ECHL
6
368
3
1
2
0
2.93
.881
Thomas Greiss
SEL
6
322
-
-
-
0
4.28
.849

Again, this is just a list of some of the more notable names in the Sharks system. 18 year old J.P. Anderson (who was signed to a contract following a standout performance in the Young Stars rookie tournament in Vancouver early this fall), earned the CHL Goaltender of The Week award on Thursday, and players such as Harri Sateri and Thomas Heemskerk cracked Hockey Future's top 20 Sharks prospects last spring. However, these players are likely a couple years away from seriously competing for an NHL job-- their performance thus far in juniors and overseas are building blocks that will eventually lead them to more serious stints with Worcester and beyond.

Perhaps the two most disappointing seasons thus far have come from former San Jose Shark Thomas Greiss and highly touted prospect Al Stalock.

Thomas Greiss, who was jettisoned overseas following the signing of Niemi, is currently in last place for all goaltenders with 6 or more starts in the Swedish Elite League. Although some, myself included, questioned the organization's decision to let him go off to Europe, Greiss has done little to prove that decision was the wrong one. The mental factor of being left off the Sharks roster despite putting in his time with Worcester and San Jose cannot be overlooked of course, but seeing him at the bottom of the heap is not an encouraging sign.

It likely won't matter of course-- since Greiss has been assigned on loan to Brynas IF for the 2010-2011 season, he would be unable to return to the Sharks this year even if they required or desired his services. Greiss will be a restricted free agent this upcoming offseason, and one has to think San Jose will not ask him to return, especially considering his struggles overseas.

Stalock, the highly touted prospect who Fear The Fin interviewed last season, has also had his share of issues down in Worcester. Although he was received the bulk of the team's starts, Stalock's sub .900 SV% is a far reach from his record setting season last year. In order to receive some serious consideration for an NHL job next year, Stalock will have to improve on this season's totals, as well as his fairly average .908 SV% with Worcester in 2009-2010. He has recently begun to turn those totals around however, what with his 37 save performance on Friday night during the Sharks 3-1 win over Manchester.

It will be interesting to see if Carter Hutton begins to get more playing time as the year goes along-- you have to figure Stalock is the de facto starter right now, and will get all the opportunity in the world to succeed, but Hutton's stat line has been quite impressive. He will be a restricted free agent this offseason.

Tyson Sexsmith is currently injured after a great goaltender fight with Josh Tjordman of the Bakersfield Condors on November 7th. According to the San Joaquin Record, Sexsmith injured his hand in the bout and there are no further updates on when he will return.

 

Go Sharks.

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