The Penguins have had the luxury of having two elite goaltenders during their back-to-back Stanley Cup seasons. Matt Murray and Marc-Andre Fleury were able to step in, one for the other, and just about everyone in the organization and in the seats would’ve been comfortable with either one between the pipes. Very few teams have ever had that luxury. Successful teams usually have a very good starter and a solid back-up. The back-up doesn’t need to be a game-stealer, but consistent and at least serviceable. Someone who won’t let pucks in like it’s the 80’s.
With Fleury being taken by Vegas in the Expansion Draft, the Penguins needed a new back-up. Enter Antti Niemi. He had some struggles in Dallas last year, but was going to come cheap to the Penguins and it’s kind of par for the course with the Penguins bringing in a veteran back-up that has been successful in the past, like Tomas Vokoun. It wasn’t a move that shook the Penguins’ news feed in the offseason, because most everyone had the same expectation of what a guy like Niemi could, or should, do.
So far, it’s been a train wreck. One doesn’t need to mention the 10-1 stomping in Chicago. Now, that was a night where the entire Penguins team looked horrible. They looked like a team that has had two short offseasons and was playing the second leg of a back-to-back to start the season. That being said, Niemi has been horrendous. He was pulled in the Chicago game, he started the second leg of a back-to-back in Tampa Bay last week and was sub-par. He made some nice saves, but still allowed five goals. He started his third game of the year Saturday night, on another back-to-back, and had another horrible start. He allowed seven goals and was not sharp whatsoever. In his three games this season, he has a .781 save percentage. It’s a small sample size, but it’s not good at all. There’s a serious amount of outrage on Niemi’s play, and for good reason. The Penguins need a back-up they can rely on. Niemi hasn’t done that.
It would be a surprise if Niemi is with the team much longer. GM Jim Rutherford isn’t afraid to make a move, but he will also make sure his ducks are in a row before a move is made. If he feels Tristan Jarry is ready to be an NHL back-up, Niemi will get dumped for nothing. If not, Rutherford will have to have a plan in place. He won’t just dump Niemi for the sake of dumping him. The team needs to play better in front of him, and he could be victim of playing the second game of a back-to-back each time, but his play won’t do, especially for a team that’s looking to three-peat.