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.

Mullin sees potential Warriors-Cavs trilogy Finals going six games, but...

Mullin sees potential Warriors-Cavs trilogy Finals going six games, but...

As the defending champion Cavaliers are one win away from advancing to the NBA Finals, the consensus is they will meet the Warriors there and, moreover, that Part III of the trilogy promises to be the most compelling yet.

Chris Mullin is not so sure.

The Hall of Fame forward and current St. John's head coach, a guest Wednesday on the NBC Sports Bay Area Warriors Insider Podcast, perceives a reasonable chance of sweeping the series.

“I’m going on the record saying 4-2, just because maybe I want to see six games,” Mullin said. “I would not be surprised if it’s 4-1 or 4-zero. I think they’re that good.”

Recalling how the Warriors started sluggishly after a one-week layoff ahead of Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals against the Spurs, Mullin conceded there could be some rust but probably not enough to invite a loss.

“I don’t want to lay any . . . pressure, but the Warriors, to me, this team that we’re watching is going to go down in history as one of the best teams of all time,” he said. “I believe that. I think they will stay together and that’s we’re probably going to see four Hall of Fame players that have played together and have dominated and become a dynasty. That’s what we’re going to look back on.

“There’s just a huge disparity between them and the rest of the league -- and not just the Cavaliers. But there’s a huge disparity between them and the Cavaliers. “

The Warriors defeated Cleveland in six games to win the championship in 2015, but the Cavaliers recovered from a 3-1 deficit to take the rematch last June.

Though both teams have made substantive changes, Mullin is more impressed with what the Warriors have done, including the addition of four-time scoring champion Kevin Durant to a nucleus that included All-Stars Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson.

Mullin pointed out that the losses of Andrew Bogut, along with subtractions to their fabled depth and chemistry, led some to wonder if the Warriors might lose the magic of the previous two seasons. He also understands that point of view.

“But as I see it now,” he said, “I think they’re deeper and have better chemistry than they did last year when they won 73 games.”

It’s not that Mullin gives the Cavaliers, who have won 11 of 12 games in these playoffs, zero chance to win the series. It is just, in his view, very slim. “Cleveland, they’ve got really good people,” he said. “Their talent, I’m not discounting at all. LeBron and Kyrie and Kevin Love, these guys are great, great players.

“I feel like the Warriors are just a notch above everybody. I really believe that.”


Giants promote power-hitting outfield prospect to Triple-A

Giants promote power-hitting outfield prospect to Triple-A

CHICAGO -- The Giants wanted Christian Arroyo to force his way up to the big leagues. Chris Shaw isn't exactly in the same boat, but he is now at the same level where Arroyo was to start the year. 

Shaw, the top power-hitting prospect in the organization, was promoted from Double-A Richmond to Triple-A Sacramento on Wednesday morning. General manager Bobby Evans said Shaw, a first baseman in his first couple of years in the minors, will continue his recent outfield work. Shaw had been playing left field in Richmond and he will be the primary left fielder in Sacramento.

"He's put himself in a position where the next test is the Triple-A level," Evans said. "He was starting to get to the point where he was ready for the next challenge."

It is unlikely that Shaw gets promoted again this season because the Giants do not need to add him to the 40-man roster until after the 2018 season. Arroyo, on the other hand, would have been added after this season anyway. Austin Slater, who also needs to be added at some point in 2017, is more likely to earn a September call-up. The Giants do, however, leave the door open for prospects to force the issue. 

The 23-year-old Shaw was the 31st overall pick in the 2015 draft. He hit 12 homers in 46 games in rookie ball and then slugged 16 in 72 games for the San Jose Giants, earning a promotion late in 2016. Shaw had five more homers in two months with the Flying Squirrels and he opened up this year with six in 133 at-bats. 

In three minor league seasons, Shaw is batting .277 with a .350 on-base percentage and .503 slugging percentage. He has 39 homers in 813 professional at-bats, along with 59 doubles and four triples. In 37 games this season, Shaw has 26 strikeouts and 18 walks.

"He controls the strike zone and he's got a fairly decent eye," Evans said. "He strikes out a relatively low percentage of the time and has a pretty good walk rate for a power guy."

Shaw played quite a bit in the outfield at Boston College but he was a first baseman in the minors until this season. With Brandon Belt locked in at first at the big league level, the Giants started giving Shaw starts in left field. Before leaving Richmond, Shaw made 18 starts in the outfield, totaling 158 innings. 

Listed at 6-foot-4, 235 pounds, Shaw would be big in left, even by the Giants' standards. In the past, scouts -- who admitted they had only seen him at first -- insisted he probably can't handle the position, but the Giants disagree. Shaw is said to have the footwork to handle left, but he's working on getting comfortable with throws. 

"He played a lot of outfield in college, pretty close to 100 games, mostly in right field," Evans said. "We'd like to give him as much time as possible to get comfortable.  We discussed (the outfield) this spring and we made a more conscious decision to get him out there (in left). That was a discussion from the time he was drafted."