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Sharks' Niemi to start in goal against Kings

by Dan Rosen and Curtis Zupke / NHL.com

SHARKS (51-22-9) at KINGS (46-28-8)

TV: NBCSN, SN1

LOS ANGELES -- Antti Niemi answered the question of who will be the San Jose Sharks No. 1 goalie to start the season when he left the ice before Alex Stalock toward the end of the Sharks' morning skate at Staples Center on Wednesday.

Niemi will start against the Los Angeles Kings in the season opener (10 p.m. ET, NBCSN, SN1). Sharks coach Todd McLellan hadn't named a starting goalie for the first game of the season prior to Wednesday morning.

"[Niemi] has a proven track record. We'd like to show him that we have the confidence in him this year," McLellan said. "It's a fresh year, everybody gets a fresh start, and [Niemi] starts [Wednesday night]."

The Sharks play six of their first seven games on the road, including five straight in the Eastern time zone, so there is a good chance Niemi and Stalock will each see action early in the season.

"Alex will play," McLellan said. "He'll play a lot. And so will [Niemi].

"Both of them have had a very good camp and [Niemi] is going to get the opportunity to win Game 1 for us."

Niemi said getting the start in the opener is important to him because he feels he has a lot to prove, particularly against the Kings, after what happened in the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season, when the Sharks blew a 3-0 series lead and lost 4-3 to the Kings in the Western Conference First Round.

Niemi was in goal for three of the four losses. He allowed 11 goals on 73 shots (.849 save percentage). In three starts at Staples Center last season, regular-season and playoffs included, he allowed 16 goals on 112 shots (.857 save percentage).

"I think I have a lot to prove," Niemi said. "I want to play well. I want to be consistent. Especially in this building I have a lot to prove."

Defenseman Brayden McNabb likely will make his Kings debut. He took line rushes with defenseman Drew Doughty. Defenseman Jake Muzzin, Doughty's usual partner, participated in the skate but reportedly is questionable with an undisclosed injury. McNabb stated it as fact.

"Yeah, I'm in," McNabb said. "Muzzin's out with something. I'm fortunate enough to get a chance to play."

McNabb was acquired from the Buffalo Sabres on March 5. It would be his first NHL game since Jan. 21.

"I'm really excited," McNabb said. "It's an honor to put the jersey on and be with this organization so I'm going to go out and play to the best of my ability."

McNabb practiced with the Kings during the playoffs last season and coaches cited that as beneficial. Kings coach Darryl Sutter said that McNabb got better as training camp progressed. McNabb was partnered with Doughty for some of the preseason.

"It's pretty easy," McNabb said of playing with Doughty. "He's a pretty outgoing guy. He talks a lot. Talk makes everything easier, especially on the ice. I was able to get one exhibition game with him. He's obviously one of the best, if not the best, out there. It's pretty easy when you've got him by your side."

Here are the projected lineups:

KINGS

Marian Gaborik - Anze Kopitar - Dustin Brown

Tyler Toffoli - Jeff Carter - Tanner Pearson

Dwight King - Mike Richards - Justin Williams

Kyle Clifford - Jarret Stoll - Trevor Lewis

Brayden McNabb - Drew Doughty

Robyn Regehr - Slava Voynov

Alec Martinez - Matt Greene

Jonathan Quick

Martin Jones

Injured: Jake Muzzin (undisclosed), Andrew Bodnarchuk (knee)

Scratched: Andy Andreoff, Jordan Nolan

SHARKS

Joe Pavelski - Joe Thornton - Tomas Hertl

Patrick Marleau - Logan Couture - Matt Nieto

Tye McGinn - Chris Tierney - Tommy Wingels

Andrew Desjardins - Adam Burish - Mike Brown

Marc-Edouard Vlasic - Justin Braun

Mirco Mueller - Brent Burns

Scott Hannan - Jason Demers

Antti Niemi

Alex Stalock

Injured: Barclay Goodrow (hand), James Sheppard (left knee), Raffi Torres (right knee), Tyler Kennedy (upper body)

Scratched: Matt Irwin, John Scott, Eriah Hayes

Status report: Sharks defenseman Mirco Mueller and forward Chris Tierney are making their NHL debuts. … Kings centers Mike Richards and Jarret Stoll swapped positions on the third and fourth lines during preseason.

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