Ray Ratto

Ratto: Sharks get to business of defense, winning


Ratto: Sharks get to business of defense, winning


There is one difference between the Sharks and the Stanfords women basketball team, just to name two teams that never seem to lose.

The Stanford women havent known hard times in so long, you have to go to the pre-VanDerveer Era to imagine it. The Sharks spent three months wallowing eyelid-deep in them.

But today, it can be said that theyre pretty much home and dry, playoff-wise. Theyve held the Pacific Division lead for a whopping 11 days in the most volatile conference in recent anything history, and while they probably wont win their last 17 games unless theres a gambling scandal in the NHL we dont know about, they wont lose enough to finish ninth.

RELATED: NHL standings

But any team from fourth to 11th absolutely could, because with the exception of days when they are three games or fewer, five teams change position in the West every night, and that goes back to even before New Years Day.

But on New Years morning, the Sharks were in sixth, tied for fourth but behind on games played, with a worse goal differential than 10th-place Chicago and a better one than division-leader Dallas. They were, essentially, an average team with a bunch of average teams.

Whats happened since then is that theyve become an exceptional team with an above-exceptional defense. Since that day, which we picked at random because we just felt like it, the Sharks are 17-8-1 (remember, the light didnt go on for two more weeks), but more to the point, they have allowed fewer goals than any team in the league than New Jersey.

And fewer by a fairly substantial margin as these things go. In the West, theyve allowed nine fewer goals than either Minnesota or Chicago. The margin in the East is smaller over second-place Washington, but thats because some Eastern teams have rediscovered the need to prevent goals.

New Jersey was a horrible team on New Years Day. The Devils had replaced coach John MacLean on Dec. 23 after the team had lost 50-2 to the hideous New York Islanders and replaced him with Jacques Lemaire, father of the neutral ice trap and the master of what is charmingly called negative hockey.

Well, take this: They are now 19-8-2 since the firing, and while they are still 10 points out of a playoff spot with four teams to catch, they went from 3.3 goals allowed to 1.8. They play uber-defensive hockey, which is hard on the eyes but easy on the standings.

And the Sharks? In their last 30 games since NYD, theyre allowing 1.8 goals per game, too, down from 2.6. Their hockey is not quite so grisly aesthetically, and they dont really trap, but they do reduce games to simpler and less gaudy elements.

Put another way, they are being outscored by all but five teams since the year changed, but not being outscored when they play them. Only Los Angeles (which is defense- and goalie-rich and needed to trade for Dustin Penner to jump-start a staggering offense), Dallas (which has hit the skids), and Colorado, which has won six games in the new year, have scored fewer goals.

In the East, Pittsburgh (without Sidney Crosby), Washington (which has revamped its style to be more defensively responsible), the New York Rangers (losing record since the calendar turned), Atlanta (in free-fall) and Ottawa (just rancid) have scored fewer, but the East is less about 6-4 games than it used to be.

It is in many ways an amazement that the Sharks havent been taunted with the Youre too boring canards that have dogged the San Antonio Spurs in recent years. They have beaten one team by more than two goals in 2011, that being the ghastlyinjury-savaged Avalanche, and five of their 18 wins have been in overtime or a shootout. They have scored five goals once, a 5-3 win over Phoenix that started with a 3-1 deficit and ended with an empty net.

In short, the Sharks have done what teams in the Bay Area are warned never to do -- take care of the chores first and do pretty later (see Warriors, Golden State, for the reverse of this argument). They have become a defense-first club, and if they werent winning 86 percent of the time, this would be a problem for the fan base.

But the fan base is happy as hell, as any fan base that never watches their team face-plant would be. They love Antti Niemi after hating him early. They like Niclas Wallin and Kent Huskins after ignoring them. And for the moment, they forgive Doug Wilson and Todd McLellan for not completing that Pavel Datsyuk-for-Jamal Mayers deal at the deadline.

Now get out there and backcheck, damn it.
Ray Ratto is a columnist for Comcast Sports Bay Area.

Phrase that Matt Joyce left out of his apology is key to talking the talk

Phrase that Matt Joyce left out of his apology is key to talking the talk

Matt Joyce said the word, he did the apology, he’ll do the time, and then we’ll see if he’ll get the forgiveness he asks.
Joyce’s two-game suspension by Major League Baseball for using a gay slur at a fan during Friday’s Athletics-Angels game in Anaheim is well within industry norms (though it might have been more tactically impressive if the club itself had issued the suspension), and his apology did not deflect blame or contain the always-insincere caveat “if I offended anyone.” He did offend people and he knew it, so he didn’t couch it in the phraseology of “I don’t think what I said was improper, but I’ll do the perp walk just to get this over with.”
He even offered to do work with PFLAG, the support group that supports the LGBTQ community, thereby putting his time (which is more meaningful than money) where his mouth was.
In other words, he seems to have taken his transgression properly to heart, which is all you can really hope for, and now we’ll see if he is granted the absolution he seeks.
You see, we’re a funny old country in that we talk forgiveness all the time but grant it only sparingly, and only after a full mental vetting of important things like “Do we like this guy?” and “Is he playing for my favorite team?” and “Do I feel like letting him up at all?”
In other words, forgiveness is very conditional indeed.
Joyce said what he said, but his apology seemed to be given freely and unreservedly rather than crafted to meet a minimal standard of corporate knee-taking/arse-covering. If he follows through on his offer to do face-to-face work with PFLAG or an associated group and absorbs the lesson of not using other people as a weapon for his own frustration, then he ought to be acknowledged for doing so. That’s what forgiveness is.
But if the principle you adhere to is “once guilty, forever doomed,” then you’ve succeeded at giving in to the mode of the day, which is jumping to a conclusion and never jumping back because it’s just easier and more convenient to do so.
It’s up to him. But it’s also up to you.

Promotion and relegation would be a great idea in all sports


Promotion and relegation would be a great idea in all sports

There is no inherent reason why you should care about Miami FC or Kingston Stockade FC, two lower level professional soccer leagues in the lower right quadrant of the nation.

But when they joined together to go to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, the international governing body for any sport not run by Americans for Americans, to demand that all American teams submit to the concept of promotion and relegation, from MLS to, presumably, your kid’s under-8 team, they became interesting.

And the best part about soccer, except for Neymar being worth twice as much as all other humans in the history of the sport, is promotion and relegation.

In fact, it would be a great idea in all sports – although the idea of the Giants and A’s in the Pacific Coast League might scare the bejeezus out of Larry Baer and John Fisher.

Now we are not optimistic that the CAS will see this Kingston and Miami’s way. Americans like their sports top-heavy, where only a few megaclubs get most of the money and attention while the rest sort of muddle along, safe but unremarkable. And to be frank, promotion and relegation is most a fun media construct for making fun of bad teams – say, like the A’s and Giants.

But we can agree, I think, that having Jed York pay Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch to keep his football team out of the Canadian Football League, or better still, the Mountain West Conference, would add to healthy dose of spice to what promises otherwise to be a pretty humdrum year.

And promotion/relegation would certainly reduce all that troublesome tanking in the NBA people endlessly whinge about.

So here’s to Kingston Stockade and Miami FC. Your cause is just. Persevere. After all, in this rancid period for American sporting culture, someone's got to stand for the quixotic yet indisputably correct thing.

And when it fails, and it probably will, just know you sleep with the angels -- if that’s what passes for fun at your house.