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.