Sharks' character to be revealed


Sharks' character to be revealed

It is clear, as Comrade Kurz pointed out in his game story from Wednesdays 4-3 loss to Calgary, that the Sharks work with a much thinner margin than either they or their supporters believe. And when they forget how thin the prosciutto is, the trepidation surrounding their upcoming road trip becomes a potential season-spoiler.

Thus, when Todd McLellan fulminated in that gravelly practice-tomorrow-is-so-going-to-suck-for-those-guys baritone that the Flames outworked and outcompeted his team, he was doing what he always does speak not to the game that just ended but the immediate future.And this is the Sharks immediate future:Chicago, Friday at Le Pavillon.At St. Louis.At Washington.At Tampa Bay.At Carolina.At Detroit.At Columbus.At Toronto.At Nashville.At Minnesota.In 17 days. The season, in 17 days. Nine road games, three of them back-to-back. It is a trip that can kill a team Chicago is in the middle on its own nine-gamer, and has lost the first four, and five of six to fall from first to sixth in the West.RELATED: NHL Conference standings
In short, here is where the blade meets the rut, and where we find out not about San Joses character, but about its mental and physical stamina. The playoffs, only with gamier suitcases.San Jose does not normally consider the road a daunting burden. Since the 04-05 lockout, the Sharks have the third best road record in the NHL, 142-90-27. To simplify that number, it averages out to a 98-point season, meaning that the Sharks would be a playoff team if they never came home at all.But this is the first year since 2003 in which they have not been among the top 10 road teams, so the assumption that they will find their zen and camaraderie from 16 days of housekeeping service is not such an automatic.The truith is, the Sharks are entirely dependent upon keeping the other teams goals down. McLellan made a particular point Wednesday night of pointing out that the Sharks have allowed four goals 12 times this year, and have lost 11 of them. An even split would put them in a tie with Detroit atop the league.Then again, an even split is an unrealistic notion, and McLellan knows that. A year ago, they were 1-17 in those games. Three years ago, in their best-ever season of 2009, they were 7-16. You allow four, youre supposed to lose.Which brings us back to the road trip. They will face, in order, the 26th-best scoring team in the league, then the 11th, the 13th, the 16th, the 2nd, the 28th, the 6th, the 9th and the 29th. It will be a cross-section of the resurgent and the doomed, the playoff-bound and the hopelessly out-of-it.And it is a lousy time for the Sharks to separate themselves from the one thing that has brought them here this year a grinding, defensively-tilted game that takes all of the 60 minutes to play, night in and night out.That is taxing business, but the alternative is being well-rested and having most of your April free. They are, after all, six points out of ninth as day dawns, and they dont have that many defensive soft touches left.So they should plan on splitting the road trip as a bare minimum, because there are more nights like the one Calgary handed them Wednesday night, and their inability to recognize and react to the challenge quickly enough kept them from having the four and allowing the three.Thats how thin the margin is. Yes, they are on pace to finish with 103 points, but to maintain that, they have to go the equivalent of 5-3-1 on the road trip. That too seems like a heavy lift.But they know what they must do to manage it. Dont allow the fourth goal, and win more than their share of the one-goal games, where they are currently 22nd in the league.In other words, this isnt going to be easy. It shouldnt be easy. When it is easy, and especially when they think it's easy, it ends badly.Ray Ratto is a columnist for

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.

[KURZ: Instant Replay: Couture, Burns push Sharks past Kings]

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.