Focus on defense paying dividends for Sharks


Focus on defense paying dividends for Sharks


In hockey, a goalies statistics can be misleading.

More times than not, a netminders goals-against average and save percentage are a reflection of the way the team is playing defense. Bad numbers usually mean the team is giving up too many scoring chances and odd-man rushes, while good numbers typically reveal a sound effort on both ends of the ice.

Saturdays 2-0 Sharks victory in Boston is a fine example, as Antti Niemi was credited with his third shutout of the season, making a solid 26 saves. But San Joses defense and forwards did a great job clogging up the Bruins passing lanes, taking care of the area directly in front of the net, and clearing rebounds to make it much easier for its goalie.

REWIND: Niemi skunks Bruins, Sharks 2-0 on road trip

Its a facet of their game the Sharks have been steadily improving upon as they bring a 7-0-1 streak into Tuesday nights matchup with the Washington Capitals.

Just ask the goalie with the sparkling 2.21 goals-against average and .927 save percentage since Dec. 1.

I think were getting tighter at our own net. Were ready for rebounds, too, and wherever the puck is, were there first, Niemi said. Our position is pretty good. Our D is close to the net, and ready.

Coach Todd McLellan has also seen an improvement in the team defense, specifically in front of the net, which was an area of concern for much of the first half of the season.

PREVIEW: Sharks skate into Washington to face Ovechkin

The net play, and the ability to control sticks and bodies in and around the net area, gives us a chance to spend less time in our zone and get going on offense a little bit more, he said. They look like a more confident group than they did two months ago.

During that eight-game stretch in which the Sharks havent lost in regulation, the team has allowed just 2.0 goals per game. In the six-game losing streak that preceded it, San Jose allowed 19 goals, or 3.16 per game.

Dan Boyle, who continues to lead the league in ice time with almost 27 minutes a game, said that the improved mark in the goals-against department has simply been a consequence of better execution.

We havent changed anything as far as Xs and Os are concerned. Were just doing a better job at it, Boyle said.

It starts with defense. Thats how you win hockey games and championships. Were tightening up there. Offensively its been kind of a struggle this year, but if we have to win games 1-0, 2-0 or 2-1a win is a win.

McLellan will likely look at Saturdays video as a tool. With the Western Conference standings as tight as they are, it's a reminder to his team how it needs to play defense for every game the rest of the season.

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At the same time, hes hoping the message will reach them without him underscoring the obvious.

Im hoping that I dont have to go in there any say that, yet thats our job as coaches," he said. "If they say to themselves, we can play like this and play against anybody and it allows us to win some games, that will be more powerful."

But ...

"They will be reminded and shown video-wise. Well continue to work on it.

Hundley still not ready to discuss future; Cain to start during final weekend

Hundley still not ready to discuss future; Cain to start during final weekend

PHOENIX — A few weeks ago, Nick Hundley said he preferred not to talk about his future until the end of the season. We’re close enough, so after hitting the go-ahead homer Monday night, Hundley was again asked about his 2018 plans. He smiled.

“How many have we got left? Five?” he said. “Ask me Sunday.”

It’s not just the media and fans seeking an answer from the popular backup who has nine homers. The Giants hope to get some feel from Hundley as they finalize offseason plans, and manager Bruce Bochy said he would talk to the veteran this week. Bochy left no doubt about what he hopes will happen.

“I think he knows what we think of him,” he said. 

Hundley, a 34-year-old who came over in the offseason, has been one of the few overachievers this season. He has 32 extra-base hits in 274 at-bats, taking advantage of increased time with Brandon Belt done for the year and Buster Posey sliding over to first base. Hundley is one of the lineup’s more potent right-handed options, and he has earned praise from the starting staff. Johnny Cueto said Hundley helped him navigate a post-clinch Diamondbacks lineup that was essentially pulled straight out of Triple-A. 

Cueto did so with ease, striking out eight in six innings. He evened his record at 8-8, and he’ll have a chance to clinch a winning season on Sunday. Bochy said Cueto will start the final game of the season, and he confirmed that Matt Cain will start either Friday or Saturday. Asked for more details, the manager kept it just as mysterious as his catcher. 

“I’ll let you know tomorrow,” he said.

Mariners club four home runs, end A's seven-game winning streak

Mariners club four home runs, end A's seven-game winning streak


OAKLAND -- Mitch Haniger homered twice and Felix Hernandez won for the first time in more than two months as the Seattle Mariners defeated the Oakland Athletics 7-1 on Monday night.

A day after being eliminated from playoff contention, the slumping Mariners snapped Oakland's season-high seven-game winning streak and its eight-game run at home - the team's second-longest in 11 years.

The Mariners had lost eight of nine.

Hernandez (6-5) gave up one run in six innings of two-hit ball. King Felix hadn't won since July 15, a stretch that included a stint on the disabled list from Aug. 2 to Sept. 13 with right shoulder bursitis. He was 0-2 with a 5.40 ERA in his previous five starts.

Haniger hit his 15th and 16th home runs off starter Daniel Gossett (4-10). The 24-year-old Oakland rookie gave up seven runs on a career-high four homers allowed.

Mike Zunino hit a three-run shot, his 24th, that broke a scoreless tie in the second. Yonder Alonso added his 26th homer, connecting against his former team.

Marcus Semien hit a solo homer off Hernandez in the sixth.

Andrew Albers pitched three shutout innings for his first save.

A's catcher Bruce Maxwell played his first game since becoming the first player in the majors to kneel during the national anthem Saturday, part of a national protest movement against discrimination and harsh treatment of blacks by police. He was greeted with a loud ovation along with some boos sprinkled in from the Oakland crowd of 9,329. Maxwell cleared the concussion protocol on Monday. He hadn't played since Sept. 20.

In an apparent show of support for Maxwell, most of the Oakland Unified School District band members took a knee as they performed the national anthem before the game.

2,500 CLUB:
The 31-year-old Hernandez became the fifth active pitcher to log more than 2,500 career innings.

Mariners: INF Jean Segura (sprained right middle finger) will likely miss the remainder of the series, manager Scott Servais said. "He wants to get in there before the season's over. It's important to him, but he's not going to be available for a couple of days," Servais said.

Athletics: 1B Matt Olson was scheduled to have an MRI to determine the severity of a hamstring injury he sustained Sunday. The 23-year-old rookie will miss the rest of the series, manager Bob Melvin said. Olson has 25 home runs in 189 at-bats. "We're hoping we can get him back in Texas, but I'm not so sure about that," Melvin said. ... LHP Sean Manaea, who missed his last scheduled start on Saturday with upper back tightness, threw a bullpen and is on track to make his next start Thursday, Melvin said.

Mariners: LHP James Paxton (12-5, 3.03 ERA) is 0-2 with a 9.00 ERA in two starts since coming off the DL on Sept. 14. He had been sidelined with a strained left pectoral muscle. Paxton is 3-0 with a 3.77 ERA in five career starts against Oakland.

Athletics: RHP Daniel Mengden (2-1, 3.30) is 2-0 with a 0.82 ERA in his last three starts. Mengden took the loss in his only career start against Seattle last season. He struck out six and gave up two runs on five hits and two walks in five innings.