San Jose Sharks: Nabokov Versus Niemi
A little while back the hosts of one of the programs on NHL Home Ice was introducing a guest. They mentioned that, dispite whatever his specific area of expertise was, he also had his own blog. As a quick note, they commented that unlike the hundreds of blogs written by people who don’t know what they’re talking about, this particular guest did know what he was talking about.
So then I thought - do I know what I’m talking about? On one hand a blog is not supposed to be a news source but a place to voice an opinion, and therefore factual knowledge of anything is not a requirement. On another hand if the blogger offers his or her opinion as expertise then the criticism is valid.
The whole point of this blog was not to offer opinion based on any hockey expertise but offer opinion from the perspective of a hockey fanatic. However the process of blogging is far more difficult than one would image especially if you’re someone who is trying to publish a diverse range of opinion. In my quest for new topics to write about I find myself trying to analyze the on-ice nuances of a sport that 1) I have never myself played and 2) only became a serious fan less than 10 years ago.
Since I started watching the San Jose Sharks the goalie had always been Evgeni Nabokov. What I learned in the early days, at least in our temperate sports climate, is that absent any gross misconduct you don’t touch the goalie, either physically during a game or emotionally in the media. At the end of his tenure with the Sharks there were ’soft’ conversations about how he seemed to be letting us down as our primary netminder.
Anyway - the only prespective I had on how a goalie should perform was Nabokov. Now that he’s gone and I have had a chance to watch Antii Niemi work the pipes day in and day out I feel like I have some new perspective on what a goaltender should look like.
And so I don’t sound like one of those bloggers who don’t know what they’re talking about, I’m going to say that these are the things I THINK and not the things I KNOW.
First I always felt that stopping a hockey puck has as much to do with luck as with skill. I find it hard to believe that you can stop something that small moving that fast with that many people in front of you based on cat-like reflexes. I still think that’s true but from watching Niemi that ‘luck’ is actually positioning, and Niemi seems to put himself in better position faster and more often that Nabokov did at the end if his Sharkdom. I have also come to appreciate what appears to be great leg work and lower body conditioning. Nabokov quite often looked like a fish flopping around on the ice during a scramble, whereas Niemi seems to be in as much control of his body when he’s down on the ice as when he’s standing on it.
The final test will be watching Niemi in the playoffs, assuming we get there. Near the end it seemed like Nabokov couldn’t come up with the big save when the Sharks needed it, and my hope is that Niemi is a guy who can.