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post Game 5, Another Goalie Steal

April 23rd, 2011, 11:12 pm

Filed under: blog — Written by Mike

I was so mad at the Niemi tonight, because he basically gave that game away in the first ten minutes. People might quibble on how responsible he was, but I think he was at least partially to blame on all three.

  1. Shot through traffic with a deflection, but he had a pretty narrow butterfly.  A 6’2 butterfly goaltenter should be able to cover the bottom of the net when he goes down, and he didn’t.  This was his ‘best’ goal.
  2. Clifford’s goal came because Niemi couldn’t catch the damn biscuit, and left it 2 feet outside of the crease for him to clean up.
  3. Penner’s goal was just an outside shot with Niemi too deep.

I knew once the Kings were up 3-0 they wouldn’t make the same mistakes they made in game 3, and sure enough, they sat on it, played the 1-2-2, got two and three guys in the shooting lanes, and pulled it out. But the real story of the night was Jonathan Quick, who made 52 saves, only giving up one goal. I was thinking to myself, how often does a Sharks goalie put up a line like that?

So I decided to invent a new stat, called the Goalie Steal. A goalie steal is when the goaltender gives up 1 goal or less while making 35 or more saves. 35 isn’t particularly significant, but I had to put a cutoff point somewhere. 31 or 32 saves just doesn’t sound that impressive, and somehow, 36 does. I went back and looked at the box score for every playoff game the Sharks have participated in since the lockout. Here are the goalie steals:

Date Goalie Saves Goals Against
4/23/2011 Quick 52 1
5/16/2010 Niemi 44 1
4/18/2010 Anderson 51 0
4/27/2009 Hiller 35 0
4/16/2009 Hiller 36 1
5/4/2008 Turco 61 1

Notice anything missing about this list?  Yep, not a single Sharks goaltender has posted a Goalie Steal since the lockout.  Nabby had a 34 save shutout in 2007, so maybe I should give him a freebie.  But anyway, the point is the same- there hasn’t been a dominating goalie performance in the playoffs in a very very long time.

I admit this does certainly have something to do with the Sharks D- if they don’t give up a lot of shots, then the goalie doesn’t have the opportunity to steal a game.  That’s frankly true for most games- the Sharks haven’t given up 35 or more shots in too many playoff games.  But in every damn one of those games, they had to score 3 goals (the ‘magic number’) or more to win, or lost it.

31 Comments to “Game 5, Another Goalie Steal”

  1. Tom says:

    Just posted this in previous thread. I’m gonna repost it here.

    Just got home and I reviewed the three LA goals. All three were mistakes by Niemi. The 2nd goal actually bounced out of Neemo’s glove and right to Clifford. And Dudes, I agree with your tweet, Neemo should have been pulled after the 2nd goal.

    The third was again off Neemo’s glove and you could tell by his reaction that he really should have had that one too. 

    So, I’m not going to get into a debate about who should start from here out, although I do think it should be Nitty. But I asked this previously and nobody gave it much thought… I think Neemo has played too many games. 

    My one issue with T-Mac that I’ve always had is the way he manages his goalies. He should not be allowing them to dictate their playing time. What starting goaltender is ever going to admit he is tired?! 

    I think T-Mac has mismanaged his starting goaltender, yet again, and it just cost the Sharks a short first round series. I’m not disparaging here – the sharks WILL close this out either Monday or Wednesday. But now are we really thinking that Neemo can handle the EXTRA games at this point? I doubt it. 

    I’m really glad Antero Nittymaki is our backup right now.

    • Tomi says:

      I think the too many games may be a factor, especially when you consider that he played as long as any goalie could play last season – all the way into June.

    • Mike says:

      I’m starting to agree with you about Niemi being tired. And I’ve always thought the tail shouldn’t wag the dog- the coach has precisely one leverage point with his players – playing time. If he puts that decision in the player’s hands, what does he have left?

      I think Nitty should start, no question, but I put the chances of that actually happening at 50-50.

    • Ruben says:

      I agree, Tom, the Sharks have a tendency to ride their starting goaltenders hard, when in hindsight it is almost never necessary.

      On one hand, I don’t want to overreact to a couple of bad games by Nemo. But he is not making some routine saves. His glove hand, in particular, has been awful. It is tought to blame a goalie who makes the initial save on a 2 on 1, but that is a rare time where I think you can.

      And I agree with you, Mike, on the first goal. I wouldn’t have pulled him on the second goal (the 2v1) because it was such a poor play by Dan Boyle (and Doug Murray), but that 3rd goal was a killer. BTW, Dan Boyle and Doug Murray are not having a great series in the defensive zone. Offensively, Boyle has been awesome, but Murray has not had any redeeming feature to this point.

  2. There’s no way Niemi starts on Monday night, is there? I imagine that it kind of *has* to be Niitty for this one.

  3. Nick says:

    now the goalie controversy gets thick.

  4. Tom says:

    And Mike, I do think Niemi was at fault on all three goals.

    Especially frustrating to me because I was actually very impressed with the Sharks play otherwise tonight. I thought they looked the best they have all series. So, so, frustrating.

  5. Pher says:

    Worst case scenario you up nitty on a short leash whats the harm?

  6. Like A Bossk says:

    Nitty should start, but I think T-Mac’s going to go back to Niemi unfortunately. I could be wrong, but his prior handling of the goaltending situation (specifically Nemo’s 34 game start streak/longer leash than Nitty’s) indicates McLellan’s sticking with his guy. It frustrates the hell out of me and a lot of Sharks fans, but hopefully Niemi can bounce back like he did in Game 3.

  7. Patrick says:

    I’m going to make a case for small sample size, random variance, and the general inclination we have to assign cause and effect to patterns.

    I think we all had the last 7 games of the season circled, where the Sharks were playing all Pacific opponents who were scrapping for a playoff spot. Over that stretch, where Niemi would have been at his most tired, he posted a 5-1-1, 1.70 GAA, .943 SV%. He had a 29 save shutout and a 35 save goalie steal.

    I find it extremely hard to believe that this magical tipping point of exhaustion just happened to coincide with the start of the playoffs, especially with him having four off days before the series started. And before last night’s horrendous start, he’d only played 80 minutes in the prior week.

    That said, I have no opposition to starting Nitty in G6. Terry Murray stayed with Quick after 12 goals in 2 games and it paid off for him, but those weren’t really soft goals on Quick’s part, and the dropoff to Bernier is greater than to Nittymaki.

    For whatever reason, Niemi just doesn’t have it right now. But I think it’s unfair to blame that on mismanagement by the coach.

    • Tom says:

      I think that’s an excellent response. However this isn’t the first time Niemi has looked from bad-to-shaky. If it was a single instance of course I would find it a fluke. But Niemi has not looked sharp at all since game one. If not for the Sharls ability to put up goals and win in OT, we’d be sunk. Neemo hasn’t looked good over the last four games.

      And I’m not claiming Niemi could have or was tired down the stretch, but rather could be currently tired FROM playing so much down the stretch. He was stellar throughout the entire 2nd half. But as of today looks and is playing like a goalie whose sharpness has dulled from fatigue.

      • Ruben says:

        And if the Sharks advance, as they should, I would have no problem going back to Niemi. Niemi had a pretty poor series against Nashville last year, but turned it on against Vancouver and San Jose. He is just a streaky goaltender, which is actually what you want (you just hope it is the right kind of streak in the playoffs). There is no doubt which goalie of the two can come up with a “goalie steal,” but against this Kings team the Sharks just need someone to play average and they will be okay. At this point, Nitty is the one that is more likely to do that.

        • Tom says:

          I agree with this I think.

          I might argue for Nitty to finish out this series. But it’s tough because based on what we’ve seen this year Niemi is the better goalie, however…he’s got to get it together at some point. But right now, he’s a liability in net. A physical and mental rest could be just what he needs.

          Then again if I knew what the hell i was talking about I guess I’d be a hockey coach??!!

  8. Ruben says:

    I’m sure some of this has to do with the fact that the Sharks were down big early, but looks like TMac is losing a little trust in Doug Murray, as he had the least ice time of all defensman with only 13:59.

  9. Mike says:

    Niemi gets the start. Can’t say I’m surprised.

    • Doug says:

      You have to wonder if this is not just T-Mac speaking here but also DW. They have made the commitment to Niemi for the next four years and they will damned to see themselves be wrong.

      Last year in Round 1, Niemi has three games vs. Nashville with a save percentage under .900.

      This year, he has already reached his quota in Game 2, 3 and 5. So, he’s know for laying a few turds. Let’s hope he can respond with a good effort and another win.

      Looking ahead, he laid three below .900 save percentage games vs. Vancouver in Round Two last year….so, if we advance, we have more good times to look forward to…

      • Tom says:

        I really hope this isn’t the case that DW is pushing buttons behind the scenes. That makes me very concerned for the future of this team. But that’s getting way too ahead of myself there.

        If Niemi has another meltdown in game 6 and we’re forced to see a game 7 in this series, I’m going to place the blame for that squarely on the coaching staff. If you can’t see your goaltender is struggling and act accordingly then it’s on you as a coach.

        God I hope Neemo can get his shit together. It’s a good thing I’m not going to be able to watch Monday night, at least live anyways… :/

        • Tom says:

          Seriously. What’s the point of having a 2.0M$ paid backup goaltender then? I though the whole point of having two guys for the price of one Nabokov was just for an eventuality as this??!!

        • Ruben says:

          Same page as you guys, Tom and Mike. This isn’t about Nitty, it’s about the commitment to Niemi. I , too, hope that Niemi plays better without me watching as I have a case set for trial Tuesday morning, so no Sharks game for me.

          What do you guys think, is this the worst goaltending performance in a series by a Sharks goaltender in the playoffs? Looking at the shot counts and advanced stats like Corsi and Fenwick (see the Copper and Blue website), the Sharks have flat out dominated. Even in G2, the Sharks were dominating until the Kings scored. Nabby certainly was bad against Anaheim, but it looked worse due to the total breakdown offensively by the Sharks.

  10. PJ says:

    I think you also have to look a little bit in front of each goal against on Saturday night. The Sharks had 4 players on the left side just prior to the first goal, leaving 2 Kings open wide on the right side. Blown d-zone coverage. Second goal Dan Boyle tried to beat two players center ice blueline, creating a 2-on-1 in the other direction. High percentage play is to dump it deep and set up your forewards for a forecheck or a line change. The third goal was the worst bounce of the bunch. Wallin tried a backhand clear that was stopped by Stoll, but a second pass up the wall was either bunted off of McGinn’s skate, or it hit the ref. Either way McGinn wasn’t looking back to accept the pass, and the puck deflected directly to Wesgarth.

    You want Niemi to make a goalie steal, he is going to have to stop one of those three goals. Quick was in the zone, but he also had a lot more of defensive and forward support in front of him. Plus the turnovers made on the rush where the entire team is moving in one direction, and the turnover sparks a transition on the other. Those were minimal for LA.

    At some point the Sharks need to go to a win and you stay in formula with Niemi and Niittyamki. I say after game 6 in LA.

  11. jeremyb says:

    Dude, Mike…

    Thank you very much for putting together these stats. Super interesting (and disappointing!).

    The quality of this blog post reminds me of what made Mirtle make a name for himself when he was climbing the hockey blogger ranks.

  12. Nick says:

    nittymaki has started 1 game since january 13th and he was smoked for 6 goals against the Ducks.

    He filled in for two games this series and made 11 saves and 18 saves- solid- but quality and quantity was not impressive. Hardly enough to justify a starting job.

    and on the season his GAA is 2.71 and save percentage is under .900

    I’m going to steal a comment (not my own) out of the WTC post on Niemi starting game 6 for fodor:

    “You must stick with Niemi win or lose.

    Nittymaki is not a quick fix.

    Getting some common D sense into Boyle’s head
    Traffic in front of the net, especially on the powerplay
    Avoiding lazy shifts and mental lapses to start the game
    Making Quick move laterally where he has a hard time finding his position to the net- resulting in a bunch of goals in games 3-4.

    Now all those seem like better quick fixes to me.”

    I’ve got to agree that if we want to go anywhere beyond the 1st round we need Niemi to find his game. If Nitty were to win game 6, would you go back to Niemi for Round 2? The real issue all series to me has been this team is trying to play too cute. Thornton and Boyle have been neutral zone give-away machines and when we have succeeded it has been getting the puck deep, traffic to the net and forcing lateral movement.

    • Ruben says:

      I’ve seen the “quality of shots” argument on Fear the Fin, as well, and while I agree to some extent, Nitty has played very well. He has made at least 3-4 saves that were of the robbery variety, saves that Nemo hasn’t made.

      I think the focus on turnovers, while commendable by the team, is probably overrated. The Sharks in G5 had one really bad turnover (Boyle’s) which led to a 2v1 the other way. How often does a team score on a 2v1, maybe 40% of the time? But boom, Kings score. They score again on a poor clear by Niemi, and again of a crappy bounce off an official. Other than that, the Sharks skated through the neutral zone almost at will (and it wasn’t because the Kings were sitting back, the Sharks were doing the same prior to the first goal by LA).

      Turnovers are going to happen. They just happen to look a lot worse when your goalie stops less than 50% of the shots resulting from them. Really, the Sharks need to keep playing the way they have played and hope the bounces even out for them, because that’s all they need to advance.

      • Nick says:

        I understand that bad bounces and turnovers are inevitable to a degree. And without having any time or know-how to look into what I’m going to say — what really bothers me is the drop passes/blind passes that get picked off or are easily intercepted. Jumbo was the main culprit of this earlier in the series and made me very frustrated with the number of creative passes that went the other way when he could have easily dumped the puck deep or put a puck to the net in transition. He can be as cute as he wants from behind the net but the ones in the neutral zone or high in the zone are killer.

        • Tom says:

          Turnovers are an issue. Of the 16 teams in the PO’s the Sharks have the most.

          Discussion right now on “NHL on the Fly” on the NHL network, they are discussing the idea that Niemi is fatigued and the wisdom of continuing with him in net. so, agree or disagree it’s a valid discussion.

          And were all wanting the same thing – for the Sharks to close this out and move on.

          Here’s my 3 keys to game 6:

          1. Don’t spot LA 3 goals!
          2. Don’t spot LA 3 goals!
          3. Don’t spot LA 3 goals!!!!!!

          • Ruben says:

            Haha, we can all agree on that, Tom. And good catch on the TO’s, I was not aware of that and certainly makes me swing to Nick’s side in regards to taking care of the puck. I know the LA D is good, but I have to admit that Boyle and Thornton have made a few bad passes. I guess it was even more than I had realized.

  13. Andy C says:

    Re: the poll question…
    I’m amazed at the voting & it could be that people are just high on the LA series just ending, but I just can’t see how this was better than Colorado.
    For me, the mental state of the Calgary/Dallas series in ’08 & the Anahiem series in ’09 was hanging over the team & the overriding emotion after game 3 was “here we go again”… & yet they fought back to overcome it.
    From being in such a hole last year, the Sharks proved they can do it in the Playoffs, both in that series & then against Detroit.
    I think one of the reasons for the ‘grit’ showed against LA win was from drawing on the memory of last year, and the knowedge that it can be done, & for that reason, the only possible answer is that the Colorado series was better!

    (Now lets draw on the memory of games 1 & 2 v’s Detroit last year: more of the same tonight please Sharks!)

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