Clowe's return a timely playoff boost for Sharks


Clowe's return a timely playoff boost for Sharks


SAN JOSE (AP) -- There's a different feeling this year heading into the postseason for the Sharks.

The tag of favorite that has been an albatross in the past is in Vancouver instead after the Canucks raced through the regular season and won the Presidents' Trophy.

The questions about early round collapses that haunted San Jose in recent years have been quieted by last season's run to the Western Conference final.

Instead, the second-seeded Sharks are enjoying being out of the spotlight as they prepare for their first-round series against the seventh-seeded Los Angeles Kings that begins Thursday night.

"It's kind of nice," forward Ryane Clowe said. "We feel like we made progress last year. We took a step forward, now it's a chance to make another stride this year. We feel really good about our team."

RATTO: Sharks face familiar first-round foe in Kings

The Sharks began their playoff preparation Monday with some positive news when Clowe took the ice for the first time since being sidelined a week ago with a lower-body injury. Clowe played only briefly April 4 against the Kings and then missed the final three games with an injury whose origin was a mystery even to him.

Clowe said the time off helped him heal and that he was encouraged by how good he felt at practice Monday.

"I'm not trying to be a hero and rush it or anything. I just want to try to keep getting better every day," he said. "I went four or five days without skating. This was the first time I skated in about a week. But the legs felt pretty good."

While Clowe and the team were always confident he'd be able to play when the postseason started, it was a positive sign that he felt so good on the ice three days before the series against the Kings starts.

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With his big body and relentless work ethic, Clowe has been an integral part of the Sharks' success this season. He is a locker room leader who is never afraid to speak up when things aren't going well, earning him a role as alternate captain.

He also helps in more tangible ways as evidenced by his 24 goals, 38 assists and 100 penalty minutes many the result of coming to the defense of his teammates.

"Clowe is the first to hold himself accountable in front of his teammates," coach Todd McLellan said. "He accepts responsibility for his game and then from there it spreads throughout the room. It's very powerful. When he gets on the ice, his size, strength and toughness are very well documented. He has the ability to play in a finesse way too. He's a very good passer and protects the puck very well. In a year like this when scoring is at a premium, he found a way to put up points."

Clowe spent much of the second half of the season on a line with rookie Logan Couture and Dany Heatley, giving the Sharks another high-scoring line to follow the top group of Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Devin Setoguchi.
BRAZIL: Are Sharks better than last year? Absolutely

That scoring depth is always crucial come the playoffs.

"He's a big part of this team, been a big part all year," Marleau said. "He's a nice piece of the puzzle coming back."

The Sharks were knocked out in the second round for three straight seasons before their most memorable postseason failure in 2009, when they lost to Anaheim in the first round after posting the NHL's best record in the regular season.

Those defeats loomed large at the start of last postseason, but the Sharks overcame a few tough breaks to win their first round series against Colorado in six games and then beat longtime nemesis Detroit in five games in the second round.

San Jose was then swept by eventual Stanley Cup champion Chicago in the conference final but the players are hoping to build on last season's success this spring.

"You want to get back there," Thornton said. "We realize we have a good team and we realize how much work it is to get to that point. But it's not the ultimate goal. We know how much you have to go through. We're just that much more experienced and we're even hungrier now to get to that point."

The injury news for the Kings is more of a mixed bag. Leading scorer Anze Kopitar is sidelined with torn ligaments in his severely sprained right ankle. But right wing Justin Williams was cleared to return to practice this week after missing the final nine games of the regular season with a dislocated right shoulder.

The Sharks are expecting Williams to suit up Thursday but know the Kings are a different team without Kopitar, who had 25 goals and 48 assists this season.

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"That's probably like asking us the question how much different are we without Joe Thornton," McLellan said. "He's a dominant player in the National Hockey League. But when you lose a player like that, others tend to pick up the slack."

Notes: The Sharks recalled LW Brandon Mashinter, LW Jamie McGinn, C Andrew Desjardins and G Thomas Greiss. Greiss, the backup last season to Evgeni Nabokov, spent the year in Sweden but was needed as a third goaltender for when starter Antti Niemi does not practice.

A's spring training Day 14: A one-sided Cactus League rivalry

A's spring training Day 14: A one-sided Cactus League rivalry

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Debate the significance of an A’s exhibition win over the Giants if you will, but don’t question its significance to Bob Melvin.

Beating the team in black and orange means a lot to Oakland’s manager no matter what the calendar reads. On Monday, the teams played a late-February game under an overcast sky and occasional light rain at Scottsdale Stadium.

Not exactly regular-season like conditions. And with both teams’ everyday players having exited the game early, the A’s held on for a 5-4 victory that ran their Cactus League winning streak to seven over the Giants.

Counting exhibitions in the Bay Area too, the A’s are 18-6 against their Bay Area rival in their past 24 spring games.

“Look, when the Giants and A’s play, there’s a little more to it,” said Melvin, who grew up in the Bay Area and played three seasons for the Giants. “You play your spring games and you’re excited about getting to play these guys. And, especially, our youngsters should be. They know the way I feel about it. The whole Bay Area is watching when we play each other.”

Matt Joyce homered deep to right off Jeff Samardzija in the top of the first, giving the first-year Athletic two home runs in two games with his new club. Stephen Vogt blooped an RBI single in the first and Ryon Healy doubled home two runs in the second.

The Giants rallied to tie it 4-4 in the seventh with three runs off minor league reliever Trey Cochran-Gill. But Adam Rosales drew a bases-loaded walk in the eighth to give the A’s the lead back as they posted their first victory in three Cactus League games this spring.

NOTEWORTHY: Starters Kendall Graveman and Sean Manaea both threw for the A’s, with Manaea in particular earning strong praise for his two scoreless innings.

The lefty felt very good about his slider and changeup, and according to Healy, when he went to the plate for his third at-bat, Giants catcher Buster Posey commented on how good Manaea’s changeup looked. Manaea got both Posey and Kelby Tomlinson swinging on the pitch in the third.

It was the slider, his third-best pitch, that Manaea is trying to hone.

“I was really, really happy with how my slider was,” he said. “It was probably the best one I’ve thrown in a couple years. It just felt really good out of my hand and had some good movement.”

Added Melvin: “If he gets that one to (the) back foot of a rightie, now he’s going to have three plus-pitches.”

Graveman escaped his one and only inning of work unscored upon when he stranded runners on second and third.

NEW GUYS: Joyce, likely to platoon in right field with Mark Canha, has played in two exhibitions, and twice he’s gone deep on 1-2 fastballs that caught the inner half of the plate. On Monday, Melvin batted him second and Joyce went deep off Samardzija.

“I can’t even talk to that guy,” Healy said with a smile. “He says he’s just trying to put the bat on the ball, and he has two homers.”

As for another first-year Athletic, there’s still no concrete word on when reliever Santiago Casilla will report to camp. He remains held up in the Dominican Republic as the visa process plays out. Melvin admitted a bit of concern just because Casilla is slated to play for his national team in the World Baseball Classic, and Melvin would like to get Casilla in camp for a stretch before he departs for that.

The Dominican Republic plays its first game March 9 in Miami.

“I’d like to get him here — I’d like to meet him,” Melvin said. “It’s not his fault.”

Melvin said a typical schedule would have relievers appearing in nine or 10 exhibitions before the team heads north, but that he didn’t think that would be necessary for Casilla. It’s also worth noting that none of the A’s other front-line relievers have pitched in their first game yet.

ODDS AND ENDS: Vogt, getting his first start behind the plate, and Rajai Davis each had two hits. … Shortstop Franklin Barreto, the A’s top prospect, played the final four innings at second base. Yairo Munoz, another highly touted infield prospect who’s in his first big league camp, entered in the same inning at third base. … Melvin praised reliever Kyle Finnegan, who came over from minor league camp for the day and handled the ninth for the save.


Giants spring training Day 15: Arroyo picks up where he left off

Giants spring training Day 15: Arroyo picks up where he left off

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The Giants do not expect Christian Arroyo, their top hitting prospect, to get a lot of at-bats in a camp filled with veteran infielders. But the 21-year-old continues to make the most of every opportunity he gets. 

Arroyo hit a scorching single to left in his first at-bat Monday. When he came up with the bases loaded in the seventh, he poked a single into right, tying the game. Arroyo grounded out in his final at-bat, ending his perfect run this spring. With three hits in his first four at-bats down here, Arroyo is now 17-for-30 in three springs in big league camp.

“It’s the same (thing) he did last spring,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “He’s getting great at-bats and playing well at shortstop. In the early go here, he’s playing the kind of ball that he was last spring. His mechanics are very solid. It’s a good foundation, good balance, and he doesn’t try to do too much. The bat stays in the zone a long time and he uses the whole field well. He’s a good hitter. He’s only going to hit for more power. The power is going to come, too.”

A move to the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League should help. No matter what Arroyo does this spring, the Giants will send him to Triple-A if their 40-man guys are healthy. But Arroyo’s time is coming, and it’s coming soon. 

For more on Arroyo, here’s a feature I wrote about him last week. Here’s more from the first day of the third week of spring training … 

GAME RECAP: The Giants will not go undefeated this season. They lost to the A’s for the 124th consecutive time in the Cactus League, this time by a score of 5-4 … Michael Morse got the first hit of his comeback attempt. His pinch-hit single up the middle in the seventh drove in a run. In the eighth, he lined a two-strike single to right … Brandon Belt hit his first homer of the spring. It was the 24th of his spring training career. You can see it here … Bochy was impressed with Jose Dominguez, who struck out one in a scoreless inning. 

STOCK WATCH: Orlando Calixte played right field, after previously seeing time at short and second this spring. “He’s intriguing,” Bochy said. “He showed the arm off in right field. He’s a good shortstop and plays second and third. He’s a good athlete.” The Giants plan to carry five outfielders, but if none of the right-handed bats break through, they could always carry Calixte as a super-utility guy. Remember, he’s on the 40-man roster. 

CUETO UPDATE: The co-ace still is not in big league camp, or on the way. Here’s the latest on Johnny Cueto. 

TRAINER’S ROOM: This room now belongs to Anthony Reyes, as Dave Groeschner is off to South Korea with Hensley Meulens and Team Netherlands. Will Smith (elbow) threw off flat ground and everything went fine. Eduardo Nuñez (shoulder) will likely resume playing third base later this week.

QUOTABLE: “To have that splitter that out of the hand looks like a heater, for me, that’s huge.” — Jeff Samardzija on a pitch that helped him dominate in September. Here’s more on Samardzija and his plans for 2017.