Ducks-Sharks Preview

The last time he was in net, Antti Niemi suffered the first

series-ending playoff loss of his career as the San Jose Sharks

fell one step short of the Stanley Cup finals for a second straight


San Jose will likely need another solid season from its Finnish

goaltender if it is going to reach the finals for the first


Niemi is expected to return from a knee injury and make his

season debut Monday night when the Sharks host an Anaheim Ducks

team trying to extend its winning streak to four with a second

victory in this Pacific Division rivalry in four days.

Niemi, who helped Chicago sweep San Jose in the 2010 Western

Conference finals en route to winning a Stanley Cup, saw his first

season with the Sharks end with a 3-2, double-overtime loss in

Vancouver on May 24. Niemi, who went 35-18-6 with a 2.38

goals-against average in the regular season and started all 18

playoff contests, had won his previous six playoff series prior to

getting eliminated by the Canucks in five games.

“It feels terrible,” he said.

Niemi figured to be the Sharks’ No. 1 goaltender again after

signing a four-year extension in March, but he hasn’t played since

getting a cyst removed from his knee before training camp. After

backing up Thomas Greiss in each of the last two games including a

1-0 loss Friday at Anaheim, coach Todd McLellan will likely turn to

Niemi Monday.

Niemi went 2-1-0 with a 2.01 GAA versus the Ducks last


The Sharks (1-2-0), who opened 1-2-1 last season and fell as low

12th in the West in January before rallying for their fourth

straight Pacific Division title, could use a lift after dropping

their second in a row Saturday, 4-2 to visiting St. Louis.

“We didn’t make a lot of mistakes,” McLellan said. “But we made

enough for them to score.”

Finding the back of the net has been a problem for the Sharks’

top four returning scorers – Patrick Marleau, Logan Couture, Ryane

Clowe and captain Joe Thornton – who have one goal between them,

and none since Clowe scored in the season opener, a 6-3 victory

over Phoenix on Oct. 8.

The Ducks (3-1-0) had received no production from their top line

of Bobby Ryan, reigning Hart Trophy winner Corey Perry and captain

Ryan Getzlaf until Sunday’s 4-2 victory over the Blues. Ryan scored

twice with an assist, Perry added a goal for the club’s first in 16

power-play chances and Getzlaf set up two scores.

“We knew we would score eventually,” coach Randy Carlyle said.

“But the longer you go, the more the pressure mounts and guys start

squeezing their sticks.”

While the Ducks are coming off their highest scoring output of

the young season, their defense has been consistently solid during

their three-game winning streak, allowing three total goals.

Goaltender Jonas Hiller can take much of the credit for that.

After playing just 83 minutes following his first All-Star game

appearance in 2010-11 due to a bout of vertigo, Hiller has turned

away 94 of 101 shots while starting each game of the new season for

Anaheim .

He made 31 saves Friday for his 12th career shutout, improving

to 4-0 with a 1.64 GAA in his last five starts against the


The Ducks, though, have just one win in regulation in their last

10 games in San Jose.