In defense of Antti Niemi, he hasn’t faced the easiest of opposition in the three games he has played this season.
The results are something that the Pittsburgh Penguins just can’t ignore going forward.
In most cases, three games aren’t enough to make a solid judgment on a player’s performance. Unless those are your only three losses in regulation and your goalie has averaged allowing over seven goals in each of those contests, which is what has happened in all of Niemi’s starts.
The Penguins have their eyes set on a third straight Stanley Cup championship and having a hole this big on the roster will make them pay in the long run.
Heading into the offseason, the Penguins had two major holes they had to fill, a third line center and a backup goalie. They waited till the season started to get their center, adding Riley Sheahan from the Detroit Red Wings for Scott Wilson and a third-round pick (the Penguins also got a pick as well).
Niemi was picked up during the offseason as an experienced backup netminder to starter Matt Murray after long-time Penguins’ netminder Marc-Andre Fleury was selected by the Vegas Golden Knights in the expansion draft.
The new Penguins’ goaltending battery shared something in common, as both Niemi and Murray both won the Stanley Cup as rookies. Now 34-years-old, Niemi did it with the Blackhawks back in 2010.
After stops with the San Jose Sharks and Dallas Stars, Niemi slowly regressed from starter to backup, but the Penguins hoped his experience would blend perfectly with the still young Murray.
In theory, it was a good match, but it hasn’t played out that way for Niemi.
Just how bad?
Statistically, just a couple weeks into the season, Niemi has been the worst goalie in the NHL, and it hasn’t even really been close.
Niemi has allowed the 12th most goals this season but has also played the fewest amount of minutes ranking 45th on the list.
So it shouldn’t come across as a surprise to find out Niemi has the worst save percentage (.798) and goals-against-average (7.49) in the league.
What to do?
Let’s be frank, Murray hasn’t been great this season either. His SV% has dipped below .900 on the season and he has allowed the third most goals this season. So early in the season, he is still trying to regain ground after allowing 11 goals in the first two games.
So the problem slightly extends beyond Niemi, but that doesn’t excuse him.
The Penguins have Tristan Jarry in the minors, but in a perfect world, he stays there the entire season. The former second-round pick is off to a rough start to the season with Wilkes-Barre, but this is the start of his third full year in the minors.
He may be the easiest and smartest option to go with right now.
It isn’t ideal to have a young goalie to sit on the bench most nights, but with thePenguins shooting for a third straight Stanley Cup, he may give them the best chance to do so.
Unless something opens up at the NHL level, the players likely available don’t offer little more hope than what Jarry would bring. Andrew Hammond, Michael Hutchinson, Jeff Zatkoff, and Reto Berra all are goalies with NHL experience but are playing in the minors.
What Hammond did his rookie season seems like forever ago, and Zatkoff played for the Penguins before.
Jarry could be their lone option to saving the backup position.
A rare position
No team has accomplished a three-peat since the New York Islanders in the early 1980’s, and the Penguins are the first team to be in a position to do so since the Detroit Red Wings nearly 20 years ago.
This isn’t even the first time the Penguins were in a position to make a run at a three-peat. After winning back-to-back in the early 1990’s, Pittsburgh had maybe their best team the following year but was upset by the New York Islanders in the playoffs.
This team has the same potential, but need a backup goalie who is good enough that the Penguins could feel easy about giving Murray a night off.
Pittsburgh has 14 more scheduled back-to-back games left this season, some of which they face a tough matchup on both nights. They face the Washington Capitals, and the Nashville Predators in one instance, and the Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings in another.
Niemi seemed like a good idea as a bounce-back candidate this season joining the Penguins, but just hasn’t worked out the way they had hoped and now is as good a time as any to find a new answer behind Murray.
** EDITOR’S NOTE: Niemi was placed on waivers by the Pittsburgh Penguins shortly after this article was published.
Do you think Saturday night’s game should be Niemi’s last in net? Or should the Penguins let him try to work it out? Let us know in the comment section.
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