San Jose Sharks: Poor Goaltending Management Is Their Downfall in Playoffs

Michael DeSantisSenior Analyst INovember 7, 2011

SAN JOSE, CA - NOVEMBER 03:  Antti Niemi #31 of the San Jose Sharks can't stop a shot taken by Deryk Engelland #5 of the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first minute of their game at HP Pavilion at San Jose on November 3, 2011 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

It's no secret that the San Jose Sharks are a great regular season team. Year in and year out, they are atop not just their division, but the Western Conference. They have won their division every year in recent memory and even won the Presidents Trophy a few seasons ago.

But as every Sharks fan knows, they've never won the Stanley Cup, let alone even make it to the Stanley Cup Finals.

Offensive stars like Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton constantly shoulder most of the blame, and quite honestly, they don't deserve a lot of it.

Personally, I would have to attribute the Sharks' playoff woes to the poor game management of goaltending behind the bench.

Don't get me wrong, Evgeni Nabokov (now with the Islanders) and Antti Niemi are great goaltenders, but let's take a look at some of Nabokov's recent numbers in the postseason, when the Sharks really became an NHL elite.

Nabokov's save percentages in his last four postseasons with the Sharks are .920, .907, .890, and .907. His goals against averages were 2.23, 2.18, 2.82, and 2.56, respectively. Some of those numbers aren't quite so bad, but some are just plain ugly.

Now, let's take a look at his respective games played in during the regular season: 50, 77, 62, and 71. That's a large bulk of the games.

Let's take a look at Antti Niemi's last season with the Sharks. In the regular season, he played 60 games and posted a .920 save percentage and a 2.38, both very solid numbers.

However, in the postseason he posted a dismal .896 save percentage and even worse 3.22 goals against average.

Sixty games may not seem like a whole lot, but at one point, Niemi played in over 30 consecutive games. And his backup, Antero Niittymaki, is actually a very good goaltender also.

Todd McLellan is a very good coach in all regards, except his management for goaltenders. Last year he even started Niemi over 30 times in a row! That was ridiculous.

Even this year, McLellan continues to start Niemi despite the fact that Thomas Greiss is completely outplaying him.

I'm sure the Sharks would've won the Cup at least once had the playoff goaltender played less games in the regular season. By the time the playoffs rolled around, Nabokov and Niemi were all worn down.


Two seasons ago when Niemi won the Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks, he played 39 games in the season and was very solid by the time the playoffs rolled around.

Let's take a quick look at other goaltenders who have recently won the Stanley Cup and how many games they played in the regular season.

Tim Thomas played 57, Marc-Andre Fleury played 62, Chris Osgood played 43 and J-S Giguere played 56.

While some of the above played a similar number of games as Niemi and Nabokov, the games played are still considerably less for the most part. And I doubt they had to play a ridiculous 30-game streak.

So, McLellan, if you're reading this, play Greiss and Niittymaki a bit more often and limit Niemi's games this season down to about 55 or so. Then San Jose may finally get that elusive Cup.