Cross-country road trip looms large for Sharks


Cross-country road trip looms large for Sharks



With six wins in the last seven games, the San Jose Sharks are feeling pretty good about themselves these days and its a good thing, too, because they are about be spending plenty of time with one another.Technically, their season-long seven-game stretch began with Wednesday nights 4-3 victory in Anaheim, but that was just a jaunt south. The meat-and-potatoes of the expedition started on Thursday with a cross-country flight to Boston, where the Sharks will play the Bruins on Saturday afternoon.REWIND: Sharks edge Ducks, start road trip with 4-3 win
San Jose will play six games in 11 days beginning with that game, and now that the calendar has turned to February and the Western Conference standings are so tight, the trip will go a long way into determining their playoff fate.RELATED: NHL standings
That being said, heres a brief capsule on each of the teams the Sharks play on the remainder of their excursion, and a few things to look out for in each game.Saturday, Feb. 5Sharks at Boston10:00 a.m., CSN California
San Jose visits the former home of captain Joe Thornton and will meet a formidable opponent in the Northeast Division-leading Bruins. Boston may have lost center Marc Savard again with another concussion, but the team still has plenty of firepower and a balanced attack, led by Patrice Bergerons 41 points. Goalie Tim Thomas is probably the front runner for the Vezina Trophy, as his .945 save percentage and 1.82 goals against average are leading the league by a significant margin. The Sharks will have their work cut out for them if they want to keep their streak of seven straight games without a regulation loss intact.Tuesday, Feb. 8
Sharks at Washington
4:00 p.m., CSN CaliforniaThe Washington Capitals season is somewhat comparable to that of the Sharks. Both teams were regarded as preseason contenders for the Stanley Cup, but both have their work cut out for them if they want to challenge for even a division title. Obviously, when talking about the Capitals, Alex Ovechkins name comes to the forefront. The Russian star is not having an Ovechkin-like season though, and his 19 goals puts him in a tie for 22nd in the NHL in that category (although hes still 11th in the league in scoring with 51 points). It will be up to players like Dan Boyle to keep Ovechkin, who is known to struggle against top defenses, in check. Washington visits San Jose on Feb. 17 in their first home game after the road trip.Wednesday, Feb. 9
Sharks at Columbus
4:00 p.m., CSN CaliforniaAfter two tough games, San Jose begins a stretch of three straight against teams not in playoff position (and not expected to be in the playoffs). Its also the only time on the trip that San Jose will be playing in a back-to-back situation. Fortunately for them, the Blue Jackets are, too, with a game in Pittsburgh the night before. Columbus has struggled in the goals-against department, at 3.14 per game (26th in the league), so the Sharks should get plenty of chances offensively if they maintain their recent offensive pressure. Its the fourth and final meeting of the two teams, who faced off in Sweden to start the year, and San Jose is 1-1-1 in the first three games.Friday, Feb. 11
Sharks at New Jersey
4:00 p.m., CSN CaliforniaThere are several adjectives available in the English language when describing the New Jersey Devils season this year, and none of them are positive. New Jersey has set up shop in the basement of the NHL, and prized free agent and 100 million-dollar man Ilya Kovalchuk has been a major disappointment. Having said all that, the Devils have been playing much better hockey lately, going 8-1-1 in their last 10 games. With Jacques Lemaire re-installed as head coach, they play with a defense-first mentality. Scoring the first goal of the game and getting a lead is of utmost importance because the Devils will just sit back in their zone if they are ahead, making it much harder to beat Martin Brodeur. Thorntons hat trick led the Sharks to a 5-2 home win over the Devils on Oct. 27.Sunday, Feb. 13
Sharks at Florida
2:00 p.m., CSN CaliforniaFlorida is one of those teams that plays hard most nights, but just doesnt have the talent level to keep up with the NHLs big boys. That is, except, in goal, where annual trade-deadline rumor Tomas Vokoun has been known to steal games for the Panthers. Floridas strength lies with Vokoun and the defense, which includes Dennis Wideman and Bryan McCabe, who are strong on both ends of the ice. The teams rarely see one another as this is just their third meeting in the last three-plus seasons, and San Joses first visit to Florida since Oct. 24, 2008.Tuesday, Feb. 15
Sharks at Nashville
5:00 p.m., CSN CaliforniaThe most important game of the trip for the Sharks will probably be the last, when they visit the Nashville Predators. The pesky Preds are right in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race, and are a team that the Sharks know well. Like San Jose earlier this year, the Predators have been blowing third period leads lately -- a bad sign at this point in the season. In fact, three of their last four losses have come in games in which they led in the final frame. Nashville has, however, won both of its games with the Sharks this season, including Jan. 8 when Pekka Rinne made 42 saves in a 2-1 victory. Its a good bet these teams will still be neck-in-neck in the standings when the puck drops at Bridgestone Arena.

A's rookie Olson stays humble during record-breaking power surge


A's rookie Olson stays humble during record-breaking power surge

OAKLAND — Matt Olson is aware of the company he’s keeping in the A’s record books.

His reaction is a mix of reverence and a shrug-of-the-shoulders type humbleness.

That’s the personality of the A’s rookie first baseman. Even as the conversation about him and his awe-inspiring home run pace grows louder, he remains the same steady, grounded presence.

“I’m happy for him,” A’s hitting coach Darren Bush said. “The guy’s worked his butt off. He’s the same today as was when he first got called up.”

Olson cleared the fences once again Friday night, his two-run homer off Nick Martinez in the second inning helping the A’s to a 4-1 victory over the Texas Rangers. At this point, it’s much more newsworthy when Olson doesn’t homer than when he does.

He’s crammed 24 homers into just 57 games this season. Taking into account his first call-up last September, and Olson’s 24 homers over the first 68 games of his career are the second-most in the history of major league baseball over that span to open a career. The Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger also hit 24 and only the White Sox’s Jose Abreu, with 25, hit more over his first 68.

Olson’s 13 homers in September are the most by any rookie in major league history for the month, and there’s still eight games left in it. But Olson’s hot streak dates back to Aug. 27. He’s hit a major league-best 16 homers in 23 games since then.

Among rookies in A’s history, only Mark McGwire (49) in 1987 and Jose Canseco (33) in 1986 have hit more than Olson’s 24. But neither Bash Brother, nor any other player in Oakland history, ever hit 15 homers in a 21-game span as Olson recently did.

“It’s definitely an honor,” Olson said before Friday’s game. “I grew up with a Mark McGwire poster on my wall. It’s a little surreal.”

Who saw this coming?

Olson went 2-for-21 without a single RBI in his first taste of the bigs last September. Then he shuttled five times between Triple-A and the majors this season before getting called up once again Aug. 8 and being told he’d get a shot as the A’s regular first baseman with Yonder Alonso having been traded. The constant shuttling took its toll, though Olson never let on about that publicly to reporters.

“You could see (the frustration),” said Ryan Christenson, his manager at Triple-A. “When he walks in and you tell him ‘You’re getting sent up,’ and he’s like, ‘Well, how many days is it for this time?’ He wouldn’t voice it necessarily, but you could sense it.”

Olson, with help from Bush and others, made an adjustment coming into this season. He began holding his hands out farther away from his body to begin his swing. With his 6-foot-5 frame, Olson had found himself getting jammed inside. Then in trying to adjust to that, he couldn’t square up pitches on the outer half.

“Now, his hands are firing from where he wants them to,” Bush said. “He doesn’t have to fight. You want your hands to have a clean path. Now he can stay in there, stay behind the ball, let his hands work for him.”

Olson, a 23-year-old from Lilburn, Ga., takes this sudden burst of success — and attention — in stride.

“I’ve been hit with so many stats here in the past week, I can’t even keep track of who’s done what, and honestly what I’ve done,” he said. “I kind of try to ignore all that.”

That’s OK. Others are taking plenty of notice.


As Dodgers celebrate, Bochy turns eyes to franchise-altering talent


As Dodgers celebrate, Bochy turns eyes to franchise-altering talent

LOS ANGELES — The Giants left their dugout quickly after Friday’s loss, escaping a celebration on the mound and a fireworks show in the sky. As Dodger Stadium shook with cheers, Bruce Bochy sat in the visiting clubhouse and smiled. He nodded at his laptop, which earlier had been used to pull up highlights of Japanese two-way star Shohei Otani. 

“He’s good,” Bochy said, laughing. “I absolutely would play him every day.”

Earlier in the week, when it became known that Bobby Evans and Jeremy Shelley were headed to Japan to scout Otani, Bochy said he couldn’t imagine a player pitching and then moving to the outfield between starts. What changed? 

Perhaps it was the tape Bochy saw. Otani throws 100 mph and hits homers with ease. Or perhaps it was the game he watched Friday. The Giants lost for the 94th time, with the big blow coming from a 22-year-old Dodgers star. Cody Bellinger’s blast was the difference in a 4-2 win, and the Giants don’t have a Bellinger, or anything close. Otani, 23, is a long shot for a team that very well could finish with the worst record in baseball. Still, he’s the kind of talent that could help pull the Giants closer in a hurry. He’s the  kind of talent they haven’t developed in years, and Bochy certainly sounded a bit wistful as he talked of the power Bellinger has put on display. 

“You call up a guy and he does that — that just doesn’t happen,” he said. “It’s a rare deal.”

The ninth inning of the Dodgers’ clincher reinforced that point for the Giants. They got a homer from Pablo Sandoval, but he’s playing only because Christian Arroyo — the Giants’ best prospect bet this year — is hurt. Ryder Jones, their 23-year-old prospect, struck out to end the night, dropping his average to .180. 

That set off a celebration for Bellinger and the Dodgers. They have won five straight NL West titles, with three of the last four clinched against the Giants. 

“Congrats to them,” Bochy said. “They’ve had a tremendous year across the board, and they’ve played great baseball. They brought some guys up that really did a great job for them. It’s well deserved.”

Bochy said it was not difficult to watch this one. The division has been wrapped up for months, with only a September slide keeping the Dodgers from clinching earlier. 

“We knew what we were facing here,” Bochy said. 

The Giants have two more against the Dodgers and then six more before a long winter. The Dodgers, on the other hand, will host an NLDS series here at Dodger Stadium. Both Bochy and starter Jeff Samardzija made the same observation, that the Dodgers will have a hard time cutting their deep roster down to 25 postseason players. 

That’s a nice problem to have. It’s a foreign one right now for the Giants, who have a serious talent gap and no clear solutions internally. It’s no wonder, then, that Bochy has all of a sudden become so intrigued by a wondrous talent overseas.