Antti Niemi has never been the most beloved of the San Jose Sharks. There aren't many No. 31 jerseys wading around SAP Center, and, more often than not, Nemo isn't the reason the Sharks win hockey games.
Saturday night's 31-save shutout against the team he won a Stanley Cup with was a different story. Niemi was spectacular in net as he nearly singlehandedly earned the Sharks their third-straight victory, all three of which came against top Western Conference teams.
His saves ranged from simple to oh-my-god-how-many-whacks-will-jonathan-toews-get-before-the-whistle-is-blown. After Joe Thornton deposited an empty-net goal to clinch the victory, chants of 'Ne-mo Ne-mo' rang down from the rafters at the Shark Tank and those who stayed to see it were treated with a Niemi postgame interview.
While the Sharks surely earned their four points against Los Angeles and Anaheim, San Jose needed a bit of "onni" to beat the Blackhawks. They were outshot 31-20, though they were just four behind Chicago in the corsi battle (50-46), which may paint a more accurate picture of Saturday's game.
Three consecutive phenomenal shifts by the Sharks culminated in their first lead of the game as a rebound off a shot from James Sheppard was corralled by Melker Karlsson who threw the puck at the net, sending it off Duncan Keith's stick and past Blackhawks' netminder Antti Raanta. That was the only tally allowed by either Antti in a game that featured plenty of scoring opportunities but few goals.
The Sharks are now through what is supposed to be the toughest portion of this homestand — but with perennial Shark-beaters Edmonton rolling into San Jose on Monday, a little more Niemi, Thornton and onni might be required.
- Logan Couture and Patrick Marleau nearly linked up on numerous scoring chances tonight. Their play was very positive, even if it didn't result in any goals.
- The third line (Sheppard-Hertl-Goodrow) played marvelously. All three topped the Sharks for corsi +/-.
- Antti Raanta played an excellent game tonight, as did the rest of the Blackhawks. Also: that Marion Hossa guy isn't such a bad hockey player.
- John Scott made some positive hockey plays tonight and managed to keep himself out of the penalty box.
- Speaking of the penalty box, the Sharks looked absolutely nails on their three power play opportunities but were not able to convert on any of them. Still, good to see the process working the way it's supposed to.
- Matt Irwin led the Sharks in shots tonight with four.
- Joe Thornton played an outstanding game tonight. He scored the empty-netter, but also showed time and again how instrumental he is to the Sharks' possession play.
- Now the Sharks need to avoid a letdown as they face a few teams they absolutely should beat, starting with Edmonton on Monday.
FTF Three Stars
1st Star: Antti Niemi
2nd Star: Joe Thornton
3rd Star: Antti Raanta