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Niemi won’t be ready for Sharks opening night

Oct 8, 2011, 2:53 AM EDT

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Thomas Greiss AP

We knew that San Jose Sharks backup goaltender Antero Niittymaki wouldn’t be ready for opening night. He’ll be lucky if he’s ready by Christmas. We also knew that starting netminder Antti Niemi was questionable for opening night after recently having a cyst removed from his leg. Reports out of San Jose state that Niemi is close to being ready for game action, but he won’t be ready for the Sharks first game against the Phoenix Coyotes on Saturday night.

Enter Thomas Greiss. You may remember Greiss from the 16 games he played while backing-up Evgeni Nabokov in San Jose during the 2009-10 season. After the Sharks completely overhauled their goaltending situations last offseason, Greiss found himself in the Swedish Elite League for a season before returning to the San Jose organization this year. Greiss talked about the possibility of playing against Phoenix on Saturday:

“It would be great. It would be the first home opener for me, so it would be fun.”

(snip)

“I’ll be happy with whatever ice time I get, will try and do my best and prove myself.”

Since Greiss’s comments to the media, Sharks head coach Todd McLellan has confirmed that the German born netminder will get the start on opening night in San Jose. After his play in the preseason, he’s certainly earned the chance to show what he can do. He posted a 4-1-0 record with a 1.71 goals against average. McLellan explained that not only is Greiss starting to believe that he belongs, but his teammates are believing it as well:

“I think he feels like he belongs here and expects to be here. His teammates are more comfortable with him. His teammates have been around him more and know what to expect from him in certain situations. Because of circumstances, it wasn’t a pleasant season for him (last year). But now he’s back in the NHL, starting on Opening Night and it’s another life for him.”

For the Sharks to get where they want to go this season, they’re going to need Greiss to be an adequate backup. There’s a very good chance that Niemi will only miss a single start because the Sharks won’t play their second game until next Friday in Anaheim. But McLellan wants to go with a balanced goaltending rotation at the beginning of the season to help preserve Niemi for the end of the season. If the Sharks coaching staff wants to go with a rotation at the beginning of the season and Niittymaki isn’t set to return until December, Greiss will be appear in more games than your average third-stringer.

There’s not that much pressure on Greiss though. The Sharks are only challenging for another Pacific Division crown, another spot in the Western Conference final, and perhaps more this season. It’s Niemi’s job for the long-haul, but games in October and November count just as much as those in February and March. Keep that in mind when the Sharks are battling for home ice advantage later in the year.

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