I think I read somewhere earlier today (though since I can’t seem to find the actual source it could have just been a dream, but it just felt so real, you know?) that for tonight’s game against the Atlanta Thrashers, Sharks coach Todd McLellan is going to start Annti Niemi. Now, I know Niemi was the guy who kept knocked us out of the playoffs last year, and I am not really happy that he was the second goalie we acquired during the off-season, but none of those have to do with why I disagree with McLellan’s decision to start Niemi.
The Sharks are playing the Thrashers tonight. On their roster, the Sharks have a goalie (the goalie they signed on opening day of free agent frenzy) named Antero Niittymaki (click here to read my thoughts on that signing) Niittymaky is undefeated against the Thrashers. He has been an indomitable force against them. The Great Wall of China, the mystery of the Pyramids–something unconquerable.
Niittymaki has stood strong against Atlanta in the past, and I understand that teams change, and the Thrashers team we play tonight is not the same as the ones Nitty has taken to town, but that doesn’t change the fact that history is in his favor. He is the Atlanta killer, and should be used in a specialist role against them.
I know McLellan wants the two goalies to push each other, and based on the pre-season and the first two games of this season, it appears that Niemi has put forth the better performance of the two so far, but they’ve only payed two games that matter, and both games ended with a score of 3-2. The difference? In the first game Niemi allowed two goals and got the win, in the second game Niittymaki allowed three goals (the game-winner took place in OT) got the loss, but still earned the team a point. Their performances after one game each are pretty close, and it is too early to tell anyway. In my opinion the better choice for tonight’s game is Niitymaki. It is an opinion based upon his record and history against Atlanta. Tonight could be an opportunity for him to shine and get his first win of the season, a win that might settle the nerves of being in a new city, on a new team, and competing in a different division and conference. A win for Nitty tonight would not prove that he has what it takes to be the team’s number one, but it would extend his dominance over Atlanta (which is cool for the bragging rights alone). Also, and more importantly, it would give the fans, the team, and Nitty himself, confidence in his ability to win with the new system.
Niemi is a talented goalie, and I have no doubt that he will play a good game and get the Sharks the win (and really, that’s all that matters), I would just like to see Nitty in goal tonight, mostly because, as I said, a Sharks win would be all but guaranteed (of course they would still have to play, but possession is 9/10ths ownership and we have the guy who possesses the skills to own Atlanta and his name is not Niemi). After all, he was won 17 straight games against them–not a small number. It is worth mentioning however, that Niemi is also undefeated against Atlanta (be sure to check the 2009-2010 stat section of “Splits”), but he’s only played one game against them, and allowed 4 goals with a .852 save percentage. Last year, Niittymaki, by contrast, allowed 7 goals in 4 games against the Thrashers. To me everything about this screams “no-brainer,” Niittymaki should be starting the game tonight.
I do admit, however, that I do not know what is going on off the ice (or even on the ice–come on 4:30, get here already!) and that I am completely unqualified to second guess the coach’s decision–maybe Nitty is hurt or sick, or maybe McLellan is superstitious and thinks 18 is an unlucky number, maybe he has been kidnapped by the Thrashers organization and replaced with a L.M.D. and they have used this impostor to make an unwise coaching decision that will benefit them. Or it could just be a matter of Niemi has shown him something he likes and has earned the right to open the season at home. Or maybe he wants Niemi to be the number one guy, and he wants the rest of the team to get comfortable playing with him as soon as possible, so Niemi will play, no matter what statistics and history show.
None of this will matter once the game is over and the Sharks win anyway so I will stop my ranting now.
Go Sharks, get a win at home!