SAN JOSE -- Sharks goalie Antti Niemi knows there were times last season when he wasn't at the top of his game. That, he acknowledged Wednesday, is something his team probably can't afford with a compressed season ahead.
"I've got to get better at staying more at my better level," he said after two scrimmages marked the midpoint of camp. "Especially in a short season like this, there shouldn't be any stretch where I'm not playing well."
Like most starting goalies, Niemi wants to play as many of the 48 games on the NHL's shortened schedule as possible, but neither he nor coach Todd McLellan has set target numbers.
McLellan did say that while coaches will be inclined to stick with a hot hand, they also will be quicker to make a move when a goalie is off his game.
"If that hot hand doesn't exist," the coach said, "they'll quickly try and find it elsewhere if they can, whether it's the backup or whoever it might be. You just don't have enough time to play a goaltender into his comfort zone."
With the season opener only four days away, the Sharks picked up the pace Wednesday, skipping any drills and going straight to a pair of 20-minute scrimmages.
The benefits of that go beyond the skaters to goaltenders Niemi and Thomas Greiss, who normally have a pretty good idea when a shot is coming during drills.
"That prepares you for game situations," Niemi said of the scrimmages. "You don't know what you're going to get, you've got to be ready like a regular game."
That means at least one prospect from Worcester will start against the Flames, and all signs are that will be Matt Irwin, who again was paired with Dan Boyle.
McLellan stopped short of penciling Irwin into that spot, however, saying that new coaches Larry Robinson and Jim Johnson had not yet weighed in on what they saw in Wednesday's scrimmage.
Boyle said he likes what he's seen so far from Irwin -- "He skates well, he's strong, he's smart. He looks good." -- but added that he really doesn't know much about his hockey past.
"Honestly, I don't even know how old he is or too much else," Boyle said. "I know he's a college guy."
The 25-year-old Irwin, who played four seasons at UMass-Amherst, smiled later and said the two had not done a lot of talking off the ice.
"But he's easy to approach, and he talks a lot on the bench," Irwin said. "You're playing with an All-Star and an Olympian, it's going to make my life a lot easier."
More could go on the market at a later date, said executive vice president for business operations Malcolm Bordelon, as another 800 seats have been held back per NHL requirements. About 2,700 seats for each game at HP Pavilion were available after the lockout ended.