Ratto: Don't hang Sharks' Gm. 2 crash on Eager


Ratto: Don't hang Sharks' Gm. 2 crash on Eager

May 18, 2011


Ray Ratto

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- The San Jose Sharks have been here before -- asking themselves, at least to themselves, if they really are prepared to pay full retail for being in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.Wednesday, though, the questions came with a surprising answer: Well, Ben Eager did -- sort of.This wont be a salute to Eagers game, which was a one-goal, four-penalty-plus-a-misconduct mess of hyperactivity. He gave some, and gave up more. He was Ben Eager, period.But he wasnt what turned Game 2 of the Western Conference Final with the Vancouver Canucks into the 7-3 failure-ama it became. He did not act out of character. Which may be the problem with too many of his mates.
Without a doubt, head coach Todd McLellan said when asked if this was another classic Sharks system failure. I'm not going to sit here and try to protect them. We lost composure, we were frustrated. As I said earlier, when you're second, you tend to be frustrated. We've got some work to do. We've got some guys that need to ask themselves some questions, answer them, and pull the skates a little tighter.What, again?Yes, apparently. Again. Too many simple one-on-one battles lost to the Canucks. Too many mistakes that come from those lost battles. And in the third period, a festival of venting that made a 3-2 game that they might have tied against the run of play into a game they let deteriorate into one of their worst postseason performances ever.Be not fooled. San Jos did not lose this game; Vancouver won it by being better across the board. Sure, the winning goal by defenseman Kevin Bieksa, on a breakaway started while the Sharks were all up ice even though Vancouvers Chris Higgins had the puck was a killer -- he broke in clear and without making much of a move wristed a 24-footer low to Antti Niemis glove side.I thought one of the turning points, in my opinion, was their third goal, McLellan said. We have a set forecheck. We've practiced that since September. A player gets skated, all of a sudden it's in your net. You can't chase this team. They're too good. You have to play with them or ahead of them. From there it started to unravel.And it did. Thats where Eagers contributions turned sour. Boarding Daniel Sedin . . . tripping Mason Raymond in front of the Vancouver bench to set up Higgins goal, Vancouvers fourth . . . a roughing call on Roberto Luongo that happened while he was scoring San Joses final goal . . . then a cross-checking and a misconduct penalty nine second from games end.But the game was lost earlier than the box scores indicates. Vancouver is the superior side, and there can be no more doubt about that. Whatever the Sharks get from this series will have to come in defiance of the odds, the skill level and the competition.But this is exactly how they got the reputation for hitting E too early.
Yes, Vancouver is better, but not four goals better, not dominating possession and zone time better, and certainly not composure better. Even Bieksas fight with Patrick Marleau late in the second period, which had some Sharks grousing about Bieksas reputation as a guy who fights selectively against non-heavyweights, produced no useful response from the Sharks.And heres the killer, again from McLellan.We had some guys that really showed up and committed themselves to the team. Then we had some guys that weren't sure.That is the most damning sentence of all. And heres the second worst.We've got to regroup," he said. "We've got to find some composure, take our battle level up. With that being said, as I mentioned, there's a few people in our group, and I'm not going to hide them anymore, they have to ask themselves whether or not they want to keep on competing.And the ones to whom McLellan referred?I'll hide that part. You guys get to decide.Thats the worst sign of all -- when a coach lets the media pick out the players who worked hard enough from the ones who didnt. Thats the international sign of, OK, you guys did it to yourselves again. Now youre going to undo it, or live with the consequences.This is a tactic that sometimes works. It is also the last card in the deck. There is nothing more after this except the players themselves -- raw and naked against a buffeting wind of derision and disrespect. They either make this a series now, or they slink off worse off than they were when they began -- and back on the list of the games great underachievers.And Ben Eager? He was Ben Eager to the end, which is more than can be said of too many of his mates.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for CSNBayArea.com.

Raiders' magic dissipates, but valuable lesson about contending learned

Raiders' magic dissipates, but valuable lesson about contending learned

So the Oakland Raiders are good, but not magical, let alone soaked in destiny. So they can make every game a hard slog for the opponent, but they are not invulnerable. So they can be inefficient, and too sure of themselves, and terribly wasteful when they’re cold.

In other words, they are part of the National Football League – no longer too good to be true.

Their performance against the Chiefs in Kansas City was a pyramid of blown opportunities, opportunities made necessary by a terrible start. A week ago, against a borderline playoff team, they could get away with it. Thursday, on hostile ground, against a team that has lost three of its previous 23 regular season games and has a defense that specializes in standing on your chest until you whistle Yankee Doodle through your navel, they couldn’t.

The result of the 21-13 loss in a game with 12 more points than degrees of temperature is that the Raiders are now the fifth-best team in the American Football Conference rather than the first-best team with four more chances to change that position.

In other words, Thursday’s defeat only provided this much wisdom: The Raiders are a good team vulnerable to other good teams with an iron-plated sense of purpose, stubborn defenses that can apply and maintain a chokehold for hours on end, and offenses that don’t feel compelled to imitate Oakland’s offense by getting into a shootout.

And also this: There is nothing that would necessarily prevent them from beating the Chiefs in case of a third match, even though Kansas City held them to fewer points in two games than they scored in every other game save one. They are still, as the pedants say, “in the argument.”

But they have flaws to be exposed against the right team in the right situation. Kansas City has been that team twice, and New England probably is, but there the list probably stops. Nobody in the AFC North or South seems terribly capable of matching them in neutral conditions, but here’s the other bone spur:

The playoffs are not about neutral conditions.

The Raiders have come a long way in what most people think is a long time, but in fact in terms of team construction, you can throw out everything before 2013, and almost everything before 2015. They are just now getting a full understanding of the hardest part of becoming a Super Bowl contender – the other Super Bowl contenders.

Yes, Kansas City has an indifferent playoff history under Andy Reid, but it is clear that under current conditions the Chiefs are serious players. And while we have no link to how the Raiders would fare against new England, we are pretty sure that they wouldn’t want to play the second weekend of January arse-deep in snow in Foxborough.

The point? Now they get how hard this contender stuff really is. They could not have learned that lesson any other way – not anyone they’ve played yet save Kansas City.

Their next lessons come in Weeks 16 and 17, when they face the frantically desperate Indianapolis Colts in Oakland and then the Broncos in Denver the week after. Desperate teams can be very difficult indeed, especially to teams that are safe and dry and home, playoff-wise.

And then there are the actual playoffs, which if they were played today would have the Raiders traveling to Houston for a very winnable game against the stultifying Texans. The week after, they could be either in Kansas City again or in New England, getting a gut full of visiting field disadvantage.

But as a learning experience, the Raiders may have come out very well indeed. They now know in very real and personal ways the real difference between where they think they should be and where they are, as well as how many ways this can go terribly wrong between now and then.

And also how well it can go, if they learn what the Chiefs taught them again Thursday.

Marshall's admission a reminder culture of health doesn't exist

Marshall's admission a reminder culture of health doesn't exist

Brandon Marshall of the New York Jets had one of his greatest games ever against the San Francisco 49ers two years ago and remembers almost none of it, because, as he told reporters Wednesday, he was cloudy-minded on painkillers.

This admission is one more reminder that sports are not necessarily good for one’s health, in large part because the culture of health in sports really doesn’t exist.

There is, rather, a culture of ordnance, and the players are the weaponry.

Marshall’s acknowledgement that he was masking pain from a high ankle sprain that should have kept him out of action for “four to six weeks,” by his own estimation but had him returning to action 10 days after the original injury.

“I’ll say it: I took a couple pain pills, so . . . I took a couple of pain pills to mask the pain,” he said on a conference call with CSN Bay Area's Matt Maiocco. “I really wasn’t supposed to play. So I don’t remember much from that game. I just remember catching those balls. That was pretty much it.”

We now re-enter the culture of playing when it isn’t prudent, either out of a misplaced sense of bravado or employer-based pressure to perform (there is no direct statement from Marshall saying that the painkillers were given to him by the team). The sense of bravado, which most athletes have, probably can never be legislated, and the culture of downward pressure to perform no matter what the infirmity has proven immensely difficult to conquer.

But there is another factor here, and that is the general lack of efficacy of painkillers. Warriors coach Steve Kerr took to using a form of medicinal marijuana because the painkillers he was taking for long-lingering symptoms from his back surgery were doing more harm than good. He said he found the marijuana was equally lacking, but he had enough concerns about the deleterious effects of Vicodin, OxyContin and other standard medications assigned to athletes in pain.

“I’m not a pot person; it doesn’t agree with me,” Kerr told CSN Bay Area’s Monte Poole on the Warriors Insider Podcast. “I’ve tried it a few times, and it did not agree with me at all. So I’m not the expert on this stuff. But I do know this: If you’re an NFL player, in particular, and you’ve got a lot of pain, I don’t think there is any question that pot is better for your body than Vicodin. And yet athletes everywhere are prescribed Vicodin like it’s Vitamin C, like it’s no big deal.”

He later expanded on that after the initial “Kerr Is A Sparker” headlines hit the Internet.

“Having gone through a tough spell over the last year with my own recovery from back surgery, a lot of pain, a lot of chronic pain, I had to do a lot of research,” he said. “You get handed prescriptions for Vicodin, OxyContin, Percocet . . . NFL players, that’s what they’re given. That stuff is awful. That stuff is dangerous, the addiction possibility, what it can lead to, the long-term health risks. The issue that’s really important is how do we do what’s best for the players.

“But I understand that it’s a perception issue around the country. The NFL, the NBA, it’s a business. So you don’t want your customers thinking, ‘These guys are a bunch of potheads.’ That’s what it is. To me, it’s only a matter of time before medicinal marijuana is allowed in sports leagues because the education will overwhelm the perception. If you do any research at all, the stuff they’re prescribing is really bad for you and the stuff that they’re banning is fine.”

It is instructive, then, that when Marshall was asked for his position on the NFL’s stance not to include marijuana as a permissible substance for pain management, substance, a Jets public-relations employee who could be heard in the background of the call saying that Marshall “knows better than that.”

But Marshall did answer the question, saying in essence that he fully intends to know better, period.

“That is something that I actually want to research more this offseason when I have time,” he said. “I’m not a guy that knows about the benefits of what it can do for pain and other things. But I’d like to hear others’ opinions and really research the effects it can have on us – positives and negatives.”

In the meantime, sports soldiers on, using increasingly debunked methods for dealing with the pain their businesses inflict upon their employees and issuing warnings about breaching the silence of the workplace. But tales like Marshall’s will continue to surface until the businesses that require him and his like come to grips with the toll of their shortsightedness and, in some cases, neglect.