Antti Niemi To Back Up Murray in Pittsburgh
Antti Niemi’s search for a new home was brief. Bought out by the Dallas Stars Wednesday, signed with the Pittsburgh Penguins Saturday.
— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) July 1, 2017
The Penguins were in need of a solid backup for starter Matt Murray since Marc-Andre Fleury was selected by the Las Vegas Golden Knights in the expansion draft June 21. Niemi gives them an inexpensive veteran goaltender to be a bridge to Tristan Jarry’s entry to NHL play.
Niemi, then 31 years old, was signed by Dallas in 2015 to be part of the highest-paid goalie tandem in the NHL with Kari Lehtonen. However, he struggled in the Lone Star State behind an often porous Stars defense. Playing for a coach who could never settle on a single goaltender didn’t help him. In the end, Niemi’s time in Dallas saw him put up the worst numbers of his career.
And it’s easy to forget that it has been a solid career overall, one that included a Stanley Cup championship run with Chicago in 2010. After leaving for San Jose, Niemi tweaked his game, learning to stay more patient on his skates and adding an element of backwards flow that allowed him to take a more challenging initial depth.
The technical adjustment allowed him to post a .917 overall in his two seasons there, an improvement on the .910 he had in Chicago.
In Dallas, however, extra movement began to creep in, opening holes and delaying reactions as the play moved. His retreat into the blue paint seemed to leave him stranded at times. Under Lindy Ruff, mistakes cost ice time, so Niemi never had the opportunity to grow comfortable in his new environment.
With the Penguins that could change. The back-to-back Stanley Cup champions have a tighter defense, allowing fewer high quality chances than most, which gives their goalies the time to get set and lock onto the puck. With a clearly defined role and a defense that will work to his advantage, Niemi might just prove he has more in the tank than many thought.
The signing means that the Pens will be giving Tristan Jarry, who’s still waiver exempt, more time to mature in the AHL with the Wilkes Barre-Scranton Penguins, although it wouldn’t be out of the ordinary to see the youngster get a few NHL games this season as part of his transition to full-time status.