Ratto: Sharks poised to finish what they started


Ratto: Sharks poised to finish what they started


Ray Ratto

SAN JOSE -- The Sharks are in great shape has often been code for The Sharks are preparing to emit an enormous egg. Thats what happens when your reputation as a skilled and deep team clashes with your reputation for postseason tracheotomies.

But as the San Joses prepare for Game 5 of this Western Conference quarterfinal series with the wobbling Los Angeles Kings, one gets a greater sense they can finish this series without too much fuss or muss because they have gotten so much production from the beneath-the-radar brigade.

Oh, sure there are the cheap amusements like, Is Dany Heatley really a dirty play like Terry Murray said he is? and Who was Joe Thornton blowing a kiss to after his goal in Game 4? But those are empty calories, not to be trusted, for entertainment purposes only.

RELATED: Kings' coach calls out Dany Heatley
What makes one think the Sharks will finish this off with a sonic stomp is the fact that so much of the game-changing is being done not by the big names, but by the small players.

Like Ian White, the former Carolina and Toronto defenseman who began his postseason career with an exquisite headache and is now the second leading scoring defenseman in the league.

Like Scott Nichol, the belt sander with feet who altered Game 4 by first submitting to King Drew Doughtys temper and then elevating it to such a point that he turned the game.

And like Kyle Wellwood, the right wing on the third line who has altered not only his linemates play but those of the Kings who have faced it.

Wellwoods contributions have been the most subtle; his forecheck in Game 4 led directly to the Thornton goal that crushed L.A.s one comeback, and his three assists and plus-4 stand out as numbers, but for the most part he has been simply a steady contributor to the overall health of the Joe Pavelski line.

Certainly this has been good for me, the stubbornly reserved winger said. I think I jelled well with Joe and Torrey (Mitchell), and theres always that feeling when youre fitting in, the game is much more comfortable. Its more fun when youre a contributor.

Wellwood has bounced about from Toronto to Vancouver to Atlant Moscow Oblast (no, not Atlanta) to St. Louis, but he has finally found a consistent place here, to the point where head coach Todd McLellan is probably underutilizing him by not giving him some power play time such is his passing and vision ability.

White, on the other hand, has seen this coming since he started playing. He just never got a chance to show it.

Oh, this is how Ive imagined it all along, he said. I knew I could play at a high level, contribute and help us win. Im kind of built for the postseason, I think. I can dig down deeper, give some extra, contribute where its needed. Ive been ready for this.

That said, five assists in seven periods is an exemplary bit of production.

RELATED: Sharks win despite getting outshot by Kings
Finally, there is Nichol, who engaged with Doughty (well, was engaged with Doughty, more like) enough to take him to the penalty box on coincidental minor penalties that resulted in two Sharks goals.

Nichol seemed a bit sheepish about his contribution for attribution, though he understands the value of the tradeoff between the fourth-line center and the top defenseman. So does Dan Boyle, the Sharks top defenseman, who said, Oh, thats a tradeoff that works in our favor. Its a very good trade, in fact.

He then broke into laughter as he struggled not to make it seem like Nichol was acceptable collateral damage. Make sure you write that I was laughing when I said that, he said. Then he laughed again.

These bricks in the wall have given San Jose a depth advantage that some people suspected wasnt there, or that could be exploited later in the postseason. And maybe it can. But so far, not now, not here, not by the Kings. And when the not-quite-big-names are owning their space, its easier for the dreadnoughts to own theirs as well.

In short, the Sharks may turn this back into a series with a lackluster performance Saturday night, but theyre going to work very hard to do so, because theyve shown all the signs and all the numbers required to be a team that finishes what it starts rather than being finished by what it starts.

WATCH: Game 4 highlights

Heatley explained his trip on Kings defenseman Alec Martinez that so irritated Murray as a simple case of, He tried to get out of my way, and I just didnt move. Whatever. To the surprise of no people, there was no interest from the league in convening a disciplinary hearing.

The Sharks lead the league in the postseason with a 57.4 percent faceoff conversion rate, and Thornton is third at 64.6, behind only Boyd Gordon of Washington and Chris Drury of New York.

No lineup or line changes are expected, and all players are healthy. Friday was mostly a mentalphysicalmaintenance day, so there was no organized practice. The Kings worked out in Los Angeles and arrived later Friday.

Very bad 49ers stay tumbling in truly lost 2016 season

Very bad 49ers stay tumbling in truly lost 2016 season

You can almost hear the sound whistling between the 49ers’ teeth at this point, beneath the droned platitudes and vague responses to what is a fully lost season:

“Look, what do you want from us? This is who we are.”

You can almost hear it, that is. They wouldn’t dare express such rampant defeatism – I mean, if they didn’t after Sunday’s 34-17 muzzling at the hands, arms, torsos and feet of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, it’s unlikely you would hear it at any point.

But they must surely know by now that this is a season already in the rear-view mirror. There are no secret plans, or stashed players, or untried ideas left to unearth, sign or try. The coming bye week will not clear their heads and give them new inspiration, save that of having a week off from the steady beatings. They are 1-6 on merit, and proved it again yesterday before another dispirited two-thirds-of-a-sellout crowd which is coming to realize that their hope is a mile wide and an inch deep.

[MAIOCCO: Kelly: No changes to 49ers defensive staff after loss]

Sunday, for example, Colin Kaepernick was their best running back, Shaun Draughn was their best receiver, the downed kickoff was their best special teams play, and their best strategic decision – well, they lost the coin flip so they didn’t even get a chance to defer the opening kickoff.

And their defense? It only allowed whatever Tampa Bay wanted, and only on demand. Jacquizz Rodgers became the sixth running back to gain 100 yards against them (and the first to do it in one half), which is noteworthy only because they allowed five all last year in a bad season, and nine in the four seasons before that, four of those by Marshawn Lynch.

And quarterback Jameis Winston threw the ball to wide-open receivers and into coverage with the same sense of well-placed bravado. Though his numbers didn’t exactly aurora the borealis (21-of-30, 269, 3/1, 117.2), he never emitted a sense that he couldn’t do whatever he wanted – save get the officials to give him a better spot when he snapped and cost his team a potential touchdown with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for headless-chickening.

In other words, this was not materially different than the Buffalo game, or the Seattle game, or the Carolina game. The only game that has been different is the opener against Los Angeles, when everything worked and made sense and life was happy and Jed York hummed “I Am 16 Going On 17” all through the suite all night long.

That game was 50,000 years ago. These are who the 49ers are now, and who they are going to be for awhile to come.

They speak of consistency, and yet they are the very model of it – leading the league in punts, and ranking second in three-and-outs, 27th in first downs and 31st in plays per drive. They don’t stay on the field, in other words, and when on defense, they allow 118 more yards per game than their offense gets them.

And they swear with unanimity that they are together as a team, and work hard each week to achieve the acme of their talents and learning. So this, if that is so, must be at or near the top of their game – which, as head coach for now and the future Chip Kelly (stop thinking this is just a coaching problem, please) put it, “We’re not doing what it takes to be successful right now.”

That was in response to a question about whether the 49ers were going backwards. He ducked the issue by saying, “I don’t think forwards or backwards,” which is probably a lie, but we can help anyway.

They have gone dramatically backwards since Game 1, and essentially stagnated since Game 2. It’s how they have gotten to where they are right now, and how they have become who they are right now.

It may be that stranger things have happened in the NFL than a team starting 1-6 and rallying to win eight, nine or 10 in a row, but on this team, based all the available evidence, this team won’t be that strange. They have revealed themselves for what they actually are, which is not good enough to change what they actually are.

And if that is too tough a sentence for you to swallow, well, go out and write some of your own. You can tell any tale you want, but this is the tale of the 2016 San Francisco 49ers, a team awash in unpleasant self-realization and the knowledge that there is nothing to be done but to go out each week and do it again.

Except next week, of course. Bye may be a favorite, but Bye must be played, just like all the others.

NFL disregards domestic violence, as Giants extend its tolerance scale


NFL disregards domestic violence, as Giants extend its tolerance scale

The National Football League has been reminded yet again that it neither understands nor cares to understand about domestic violence.

But it will do better, you may rest assured. They’ll have a week where all the on-field personnel wear purple to commemorate the bruises.

That’s what the NFL does when it can no longer ignore its own tone-deafness – they turn their stupidity into a marketing opportunity. After all, every social problem can be solved in the league’s eyes by figuring out a way for the league to monetize it.

The latest example of the NFL’s slack-jawed world view comes from New York, where the Giants could not and still cannot figure out what to do about kicker/serial domestic abuser Josh Brown except not let him go to London for the weekend.

This means the league has learned nothing from the Ray Rice incident, even as Rice of all people is showing on a regular basis how to learn from it. More than that, it means it has no interest in learning anything about it, and will never prioritize it beyond crisis-management level – “Uh-oh, something bad just happened. Quick, put it behind us.”

Then again, the league has been so relentlessly ham-handed on so many things that, as convenient as this may be for it, we should stop expecting it to do so, to the point that when someone from the league wants to explain some social issue to us we should simply say with one voice, “Oh, shut up, you yammering frauds.”

It is difficult to prioritize the number of ways the Giants failed to comprehend the problem currently smacking them between the numbers, although owner John Mara’s “He admitted to us he'd abused his wife in the past. What’s a little unclear is the extent of that” may summarize it nicely.

Put another way, one could make a case that the Giants extended the universal talent-tolerance scale (if you have the talent, anything can be tolerated until it can’t) to include placekickers.

That seems less likely, though, than the more obvious point that the league doesn’t regard domestic violence as something worth concerning itself with, while bloviating all the time about all the things with which it is concerned. The league is the beat cop who never gets out of his car to see what is happening on his beat, and is shocked when something does.

And while it will be handy to pile this atop the list of reasons why Commissioner Roger Goodell doesn’t get it, the truth is he is merely the painful rash that reveals the league’s case of shingles. The league’s 32 constituent elements are culpable here because ignorance in the face of so much evidence becomes willful, and Goodell’s skill is not in guiding the league but in figuring out where his 32 bosses want him to go, and avoiding all the places they don’t.

Hence, domestic violence. This is not an easy problem to solve, as any expert will say, but Mara trying to decide how many punches are enough isn’t it. The league’s six-game suspension guideline that is now four years old has never been imposed on any player. It wants the power to use the talent-tolerance scale at whim to do what it wishes when it wishes to do it.

Or in this case, not do anything at all until it has to, and then in as minimal a fashion as it can manage.

So, Josh Brown loses a week in a foreign country on the company dime as a trade-off for continually terrorizing his wife. The league says it punished him for a game but was powerless to do anything else while knowing all along how severe the problem had become.

In short, it did the minimum. Now that everyone knows the fullest extent of Brown’s abuse, and how much the league knew without doing anything, it will now extend the minimum out to what it thinks is a new minimum.

So we now know that the NFL is looking for some metric that will determine the transactional “extent of that,” as John Mara so eloquently put it for us. When it comes up with that formula, it will surely ignore that standard, because the real standard is still “talent-tolerance,” and the world is made up of concentric circles surrounding the people who make the league and its members a dollar more tomorrow than it made today.

And spouses are a long way from the center.