(photo: Dinur Blum)
For #31 on the San Jose Sharks, saving 31 shots that earned him his 31st career shutout was “still a little special even though it’s been a while.” 31-year-old Antti Niemi was spectacular Saturday night, the 31st of January, versus the Chicago Blackhawks. Clearly, the stars were in line for this one.
Building off their momentum from their win against the Anaheim Ducks earlier in the week, Melker Karlsson gave the Sharks a quick lead only five minutes in. This was his eighth goal in just 21 games in the NHL. Matt Irwin and Joe Thornton got the assists, which gave Irwin a three-game scoring streak and Thornton his 30th assist on the year. After a no-goal second period, despite a handful of power plays, Thornton scored on an empty-netter late in the third right after Antti Raanta was pulled. Karlsson was in on that goal as well, earning his second point on the evening on Thornton’s goal, giving him a total of 8 points for the entire month of January. It seems Karlsson and Thornton are reading each other very well on this top line.
For most of the game though, the Sharks only had a one-goal lead, which is never safe. But it was Niemi who kept them alive.
Thornton reflected that “Nemo played great. I think for half the game the shots were 2-1. But he stuffed a few breakaways. He was a stud for us.” Particularly amazing was Niemi’s robbery on captain and All-Star Jonathan Toews. For all his efforts, the crowd was pleased and cheered “Nemo! Nemo! Nemo!”
Niemi’s amazing show aside, the heat in this battle was apparent by the first faceoff, especially in the first period with a few scuffles and uncalled slashes. Although consistently trailing by at least 10 shots the entire game, it was the Sharks who doled out more hits, 30 to 16. I love analyzing stats, but sometimes stats don’t tell the whole story alone, and this game was a perfect example of that. Although the Hawks did get a few good looks, by Toews and Brandon Saad, it was all Niemi in this one.
Raanta knew it too. “We had lots of good scoring chances but (Niemi) was one of the reasons why we lost the game. You know when you play a shutout you are the king of the rink so he was really good today,” he commented after the game.
Monday night the Sharks will host the Edmonton Oilers and hope to continue their good performance at home, which is now 4-1-1 in the last six.