Ratto: Sharks' season ends nobly, but harshly


Ratto: Sharks' season ends nobly, but harshly

Ray Ratto
CSNCalifornia.comVANCOUVER, British Columbia -- It is the story that keeps telling itself -- the San Jose Sharks, playing their best game a game or two too late.

So it goes, again. Having wedged their backs into the soft plaster behind them, they played one of their finest games in Game 5 of the Western Conference Final, but for a play here, a bounce there, a call somewhere else, they still flew home Tuesday night wearing a 3-2 double overtime loss to the Vancouver Canucks.

Indeed, the winning goal by Kevin Bieksa tells you everything you need to know about the evils of waiting until the last minute to get your ducks aligned. You never know when fate will jam a finger in your eye.
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Bieksa drove a puck to the front of the net that was deflected to the wall and back to fellow defenseman Alexander Edler, who tried to dump the puck behind the net. The puck, though, struck a stanchion and rebounded back to Bieksa at the O in Stanley Cup Playoffs logo inside the blue line, and his shot knuckled past a startled Antti Niemi at 10:18 of the overtime.

I didn't see it at all until the last two or three meters, Niemi said, explaining how he followed the players as they headed behind the net where Edlers pass was headed. It was one of the weirdest goals I've ever given up, sure. It took a bounce, and I lost it, and I never saw it until right at the end when it was past me. I just saw it going by.

And with it, another Miss Congeniality medal for the team that is becoming known for them.

While it is still too early to work at the postmortems and the is-the-window-closing arguments, Logan Couture put it succinctly.

It sucks, it really does, he said. Maybe we did deserve better. We did play good in a couple of games in this series, but it doesnt matter. Theyre going on, and were not, and that sucks.

The problem, of course, is that a couple of games are not five, and it took at least that many for the Sharks to beat the Canucks. Yes, the job was made more difficult by Joe Thorntons separated shoulder, and Ryane Clowes chronic shoulder problem, and a lot of other nagging annoyances that are the hallmark of a team that plays 107 hockey games in seven months.

But as it was a year ago, the superior team won, the right result was achieved. San Jose could have changed it, because no fate in this game is pre-ordained, but they left too much to the whims of an elimination game, and will reflect on being fourth best for the second time in succession.

I thought they competed extremely hard, head coach Todd McLellan said. I'll tell them (when we get back) I thought they were a better team than we were in the series. We started to show it in the end of the series, but ...
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But thats too late, again. And the recriminations of another missed opportunity can begin on Thursday, when the Sharks have scheduled their season autopsy.

Tuesdays game was San Joses to win despite Thorntons injury, which allowed him to play 32 minutes but not to materially affect the game in any dramatic way. San Jose played hard and with purpose most of the evening, and for the first time in the series could say they were foiled by a bit of bad luck, as in:

The Bieksa pinball goal.

An erroneous icing call on Dan Boyle with 29 seconds left, when his puck clearance hit Daniel Sedins shoulder, which should have negated the icing call that brought the puck back into the zone for a faceoff which led to Ryan Keslers tying goal 13 seconds from the end of regulation.

Then again, the Canucks were victimized a bit on Patrick Marleaus game-tying power play goal at 9:57 of the second. Bieksa was sent to the box for high-sticking instead of Mason Raymond, the actual miscreant, and as a result Keith Ballard, a much less accomplished defenseman, and not Bieksa was on the ice when Marleau scored.

But this isnt about referees or cruel stanchions or injuries or anything else. Ultimately, the Sharks season ended before they thought it should have because they didnt get consistent work game in and game out even though they knew it was the only thing keeping them from glory.

And maybe even if they had that, Vancouver still would have won. The Canucks are smart, fast, deep, chippy when needed, brilliant puck-controllers and an all-around tough out under any circumstances.

But the right team won gets hollow after awhile, and McLellan made sure he had a few more swings to take before he left the podium for the spring and summer.

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First of all, we're going to get healthy, he said, referring specifically to Thornton and Clowe but with others on a long list of the impaired. We're going to rest over the summer, we're going to get our butts back to training camp where we're going to work ourselves right back to this spot again, and we'll make good on it next time.

We've learned a lot of lessons along the way. We've grown as a team. In my opinion, there's absolutely no reason why we can't be an elite team again next year, as we were the last three, four, five years. We expect to be there. Our task ahead of us is to get our asses back here in the conference finals and make good on it.

Theyll need to be more consistently Game 5-ish to do so, though. They werent unlucky as much as they were inefficient, and inadequately iron-minded. It is a lesson that will have to be driven into them even harder if, as McLellan says, they are to get our asses back here and make good on it.
Ray Ratto is a columnist for Comcast SportsNet Bay Area.

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.

Silent but effective Sharks look to be an under-the-radar power

Silent but effective Sharks look to be an under-the-radar power

The National Hockey League began its 685th season (or whatever the hell it is; the other reason to know is for the yobs who have to authenticate the shoulder patches), and apparently is going to belong to Auston Matthews and Connor McDavid and the new focus on speed and attack and goals.

At least that was the talk after Night One of 179, in which the first three games of the new season featured some mid-‘80s level run-and-run play. The Ottawa-Toronto game gave us Matthews’ first four NHL goals in a game his Torontos lost, 5-4. The Edmonton-Calgary game finished 7-4, with the nonpareil McDavid scoring twice. Even the St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks engaged in some fun-time up-and-down play in a 5-2 St. Louis victory.

But here, we get cold, hard sanity – the discipline and territorial integrity that is the hallmark of the new-ish and ever-so-slightly improved San Jose Sharks. They opened their defense of the Not-Quite-Stanley Cup with a very grind-y 2-1 win over the allegedly declining but still obstinate Los Angeles Kings.

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Guess which game won’t be talked about come the morning’s national rehashes. And guess who won’t give a farthing’s worth of damn.

Matthews and McDavid will of course dominate – Matthews, because he is a Toronto Maple Leafs and all things Leaf trump all things anything else in this still-defiantly Canadian league, and McDavid, because he helped usher in the brand new civic boondoggle . . . err, arena in Edmonton with two goals and the quote of the night.

“I don't think I touched the puck four times in my first game,” McDavid said, telling what is clearly a monumental whopper because he knows a good story when it is thrust upon him.

That will get run.

The Sharks, on the other hand, have resumed their plan running silent and running deep. Despite having the territorial and chance edges, the Skating Selachimorpha needed to stay true to their truth, which is that 11-goal games are not to their advantage, and that the sum of the whole must exceed its parts.

That’s how they got to hang a new banner from the rafters of The Old Grey Girl on Santa Clara Street – by keeping their heads when all about them are scoring theirs off.

Then again, the Sharks have older legs in key positions, greater expectations than Get The Puck To The Young’uns and Try Not To Finish 13th, and a coach in Peter (Chuckles) DeBoer who has the pressure of taking last year’s stealth success and finish the job the Pittsburgh Penguins prevented them from doing a year ago.

In short, the Sharks are likely to be just as under-the-radar this year as they were last, and assuming health and focus, they are still one of the two or three best teams in the Western Conference.

It’s just that they can’t run hither and yon chasing whatever puck looks tempting to them. Their first duty is to maintain defensive integrity, which they did with fervor and purpose Wednesday night, and their second is to see to it that goaltender Martin Jones is not oppressively treated by the opponent (San Jose outshot Los Angeles 31-22, and totally outshot the Kings, 73-58).

There was, in short, relatively little to make anyone wax euphoric about this team off one game, and in fairness, Kings coach Darryl Sutter knows how to keep games into the race-to-three stage, which may color the judgment some.

But the Sharks are playing the way they have learned works best for them, and that means gumming up passing (15 takeaways) and shooting lanes (21 blocked shots). They are like the Kings – well, the Kings of a couple of years ago – than they are the newest incarnations of the Oilers or Leafs, and based on history, that shall be considered a good thing.

Of course, the game, she is a’changing, and at some point in the next couple of years the changes that every season brings will become substantive ones, the old core will give way to a new one, and the current orthodoxy that speed is the most important component to happy-happy-win-joy will overtake San Jose.

DeBoer, though, showed against last night that is perfectly comfortable dancing with who brung him, as the kids no longer say, and making the most of what Providence has offered him. And Wednesday, as it did for most of the past year save the lost fortnight in Pennsylvania, that philosophy once again came up trumps.

Well, maybe that’s a saying we should probably forgo for awhile. Let’s just leave it at “Sharks, twice as many as Kings.” That’s a good enough result to get paid off in this league, and until DeBoer is asked for style points, that will more than suffice.