Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Niemi Can't Figure What Was Wrong

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Niemi Can't Figure What Was Wrong

Article excerpt

The way Antti Niemi figured, Pittsburgh would be perfect. He'd resurrect his NHL career here while providing a reliable backup option for Matt Murray, simultaneously making the Dallas Stars look dumb for buying out the final year on his contract.

Things did not exactly work out that way.

Not remotely close.

Niemi was bad. Like a very bad steak. In three starts, the 34-year-old played to a 7.50 goals-against average and .797 save percentage. By late October, the Penguins had seen enough and placed him on waivers.

Florida claimed Niemi but didn't keep him long. He wound up with the Montreal Canadiens and backed up Carey Price Wednesday at PPG Paints Arena. Before the game, Niemi reflected on his time with the Penguins.

"The whole thing," Niemi said, "was something that nobody expected."

Certainly not Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford, who signed Niemi to a one-year, $700,000 contract July 1, hoping Niemi could rediscover the form that helped him win 30 or more games four times between 2010-2015, dreaming that Niemi could potentially play "30 to 40 games for us."

But Niemi looked nothing like that. Or the guy who backstopped the Chicago Blackhawks to a Stanley Cup in 2010. Or someone who had ever played the position in his life.

"I don't think I played great," Niemi said.

Figuring out why is tougher for Niemi.

"I'm not sure," Niemi said. "That's a good question. It was a tough start. Tough games. You know how it goes not winning games."

To his credit, Niemi has found a decent fit in Montreal. He's given up more than three goals just once in 16 games - to the Penguins March 15 - and was 3-0-3 with a .950 save percentage in six games between Feb. 22-March 13.

"I'm really happy where I am right now," Niemi said.

It's a space that, ironically, only Tom Barrasso has shared.

Niemi played his three former teams consecutively March 13 (Dallas), March 15 (Pittsburgh) and March 19 (Florida). The last goaltender to do that - play his past three employers, in chronological order - was Barrasso with Carolina Dec. 14, 16 and 18, 2001, against Buffalo, Pittsburgh and Ottawa.

"It was an interesting week," Niemi said, "facing all my teams from this season. …

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