Prior to the trade deadline, Antti Niemi was struggling for the Montreal Canadiens and was rumoured to be shopped. The deadline came and went and at 3 pm Eastern on February 25th. Niemi was still a member of the Montreal Canadiens. With where the Habs are this season and what they have planned for the future, keeping Niemi was the right decision. Niemi is 8-5-2 this year with a 3.75 goals-against average and .889 save percentage in 16 starts.
Keeping Antti Niemi
Slim Market for Goaltenders
Coming into the trade deadline the Habs weren’t planning on making any huge trades despite their surprising success this season. The goaltenders who were rumored to be on the market were guys like Brian Elliott, Jimmy Howard, Keith Kinkaid, and Jonathan Quick. If the Habs acquired one of these goalies they would most likely be rentals and the Habs would let them walk at the end of the season. There was no point in bringing in a guy for the final 19 games of the season who may get two or three starts.
Antti Niemi’s Play This Season
Despite Niemi’s struggles, he’s been solid in the games where he has picked up the win. Niemi had a 52 save performance on January 15th vs Philadelphia Flyers and a 45 save performance on New Year’s Eve vs Dallas Stars. In his eight wins this year Antti Niemi has a 2.57 goals-against average and a .924 save percentage. In his losses, his numbers are terrible with a 6.07 goals-against average and .826 save percentage. During one of his weaker performances this year, he gave up seven goals against a very strong Tampa Bay Lightning team. Tampa leads the league with 242 goals for.
You can argue that in his losses he’s terrible but when he gets the job done he has got solid numbers for a guy who is backing up Carey Price. His job is to give Price a night off once in a while. There are only two games where he hasn’t finished the game. The Habs are 13th in goals against this season with 186. Niemi has given up 57 of those 186 goals.
Niemi’s Plays Better Late in the Season
Over the course of his 11-year career, Antti Niemi’s best numbers have come late in the season. In March, Niemi is 45-31-13 with a 2.48 goals-against average, .915 save percentage and 11 shutouts. In the final month of the season, Niemi is 26-9-2 with a .917 save percentage, 2.40 goals against average and a shutout in 39 games.
With 18 games left in the season for Montreal, they have only two back to back games. These both come within the next two weeks as they play the New York Rangers Friday and then Pittsburgh Penguins Saturday. Before a back to back to finish off their west coast road trip next week. Niemi should get the start Friday night and will likely get the start in their final game out west vs the Anaheim Ducks. He has solid numbers against both the Rangers and the Ducks in his career. In 30 games vs Anaheim Niemi is 18-11 with a 2.44 goals-against average, .916 save percentage and two shutouts. The 11-year veteran has only faced the Rangers 11 time in his career. In those games, he’s 4-4-1 with a 2.83 goals-against average, .905 save percentage, to go along with a shutout.
Habs Have Solid Goaltending Prospects in the System
The Habs signed Antti Niemi to a one-year deal and with the goaltenders, the Habs have in Laval they will likely let Niemi walk in the offseason. Charlie Lindgren and Michael McNiven are currently in Laval developing. Lindgren has seen some time in the NHL including 14 games last season. He’s 7-8-2 with a 2.78 goals-against average, .908 save percentage, and two shutouts in 17 career games. McNiven has yet to see any playing time in the NHL. In 19 games with Laval this year McNiven is 8-6-2 with a 2.38 goals-against average, .907 save percentage and two shutouts. They also have the rights to Cayden Primeau who is currently playing for the Northeastern Huskies. It wouldn’t be a huge surprise if McNiven or Lindgren moved into the back-up role for the Habs next season.