Sharks look to avoid letdown in Pittsburgh

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Sharks look to avoid letdown in Pittsburgh

Feb. 23, 2011

SHARKS (34-21-6) vs.
PITTSBURGH (36-20-5)

Coverage begins at 4 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet California

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- The San Jose Sharks have been awfully good defensively during their second-half resurgence, never allowing more than three goals during a stretch that's seen them win 13 of 16.

Holding the Pittsburgh Penguins down isn't nearly the challenge that it once was.

The Sharks seek a season high-tying fifth consecutive victory Wednesday night in Pittsburgh, where the Penguins hope the acquisition of forward James Neal will give their floundering offense a boost.

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San Jose (33-21-6) allowed 2.80 goals per game during a 21-19-5 start that had it in 10th place in the Western Conference.

It was hard to believe one of the league's best regular-season teams over the past decade was in danger of missing the playoffs, but the Sharks are back among the West's top four after allowing an average of 1.81 goals over their past 16.

They improved to 13-2-1 in that stretch - and stayed just a point behind Pacific Division-leading Phoenix - with a 4-3 win at Detroit on Tuesday.

REWIND: Sharks hang on to defeat Red Wings

"Our playoffs started 15 games ago," said captain Joe Thornton, who scored his 300th career goal and assisted on both of Devin Setoguchi's tallies.

The Penguins (36-20-5) are also in fourth place in their conference, but the explosive offense that helped carry them to two of the past three Stanley Cup finals is a shell of what it once was.

After initially surviving without Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and a lineup that's currently missing eight other forwards, Pittsburgh is starting to stumble. The Penguins have scored 14 goals over their last eight games.

RELATED: Spotlight on Pittsburgh

That's why general manager Ray Shero made a move Monday, trading defenseman Alex Goligoski to Dallas for Neal - a 20-goal scorer in each of his first three seasons - and defenseman Matt Niskanen.

"There's not many of these power guys in the game," Shero said of the 6-foot-2, 210-pound Neal. "And (James), on our list, is one of the better ones in the game and has got some room to grow. That's why when you can get a guy like Neal - the opportunity might not be there again."

Hours after the trade, Pittsburgh showed why the addition of Neal was so necessary. Despite putting 39 shots on goal at Michal Neuvirth, the Penguins were beaten 1-0 by Washington.

Five of those shots came from center Jordan Staal, who saw his five-game point streak end. Coach Dan Bylsma said Tuesday that he'll install Neal on the left side of the team's top line with Staal and Tyler Kennedy.

"I think (Neal is) going to make us a better team going into (Wednesday's) game and give us a chance to get what we need to get wins," Bylsma said. "With Jordan, I can see them being a real formidable pair."

With top defenseman Paul Martin out Wednesday with an upper-body injury, Niskanen is expected to join Kris Letang on the team's No. 1 power-play unit.

The Penguins haven't scored more than two goals against San Jose in seven meetings since December 2002, as the Sharks have gone 6-0-1.

Thornton has rarely done anything but win versus Pittsburgh. Dating to his days with Boston, Thornton's teams are 15-1-2 against the Penguins since December 2001.

He has 10 goals and 25 assists in those contests.

NOTES
This will be the first meeting between these teams since the Sharks routed Pittsburgh, 5-0, on November 7, 2009. The victory improved San Jose's record to 12-1-1-1 in the series since April 1998. ... The Sharks won their fourth game in a row with a 4-3 victory at Detroit on Tuesday. Their 13-2-1 record since January 15 represents the best winning percentage (.844) in the Western Conference over that span. ... After getting shut out on Monday, 1-0, the Penguins have failed to score more than three goals in 14 consecutive games, their longest such streak since 2003. ... Dany Heatley has scored 20 goals in 26 career games against the Penguins, the best rate (0.77 goals per game) by any active skater versus Pittsburgh (minimum 10 games). ... Devin Setoguchi followed his hat trick versus Colorado on Saturday with another two goals on Tuesday. He sports a 7 rating over his past 14 games after producing a mark of -15 over his first 38 games of the season. ... New Penguin James Neal has scored 10 points against San Jose in his career, his second-highest total versus any opponent (11 versus Anaheim). His six career goals against the Sharks are tied for his second most versus any foe (seven versus Edmonton).

Giants get blanked by Braves, now have lowest-scoring team in majors

Giants get blanked by Braves, now have lowest-scoring team in majors

SAN FRANCISCO — Over in Cleveland earlier Friday, Brandon Moss hit a three-run homer for the visiting team and five other players chipped in a pair of hits. The Royals had six runs, which meant that when Jim Johnson closed the Giants out a few hours later, what has seemed true all season became officially true. The Giants have the lowest-scoring lineup in the majors.

At 3.32 runs per game, they have dipped below the equally-disappointing Royals (3.38). They are capable at the moment of making any pitching staff look dominant. A 2-0 shutout was the first of the year for the Braves, who previously had just two games this season where they allowed fewer than two runs. 

“Six runs in (the last) four games … I thought we would come home and get some rips in tonight, but it didn’t happen,” Bruce Bochy said. 

The manager’s frustration showed late in this one. After the only rally of the game — a two-run single by opposing pitcher Jaime Garcia — Bochy took his cap off and rubbed his forehead. He dipped his head and briefly stood as if he was going to fall asleep on the rail. The bats were equally still. 

The Giants had just four hits, all of them singles against Garcia, who is a nice pitcher but hardly one of the league’s best. One was an infield single by Eduardo Nuñez, another a single through Garcia’s five-hole, and a third a generous ruling by the official scorekeeper. 

“It comes down to, you’ve got to get some hits and create opportunities, and we’re not doing it very often,” Bochy said. “It’s just a matter of guys getting somewhat hot. We did, we had some success, and we won some games. The thing you like to see is some good cuts and I didn’t think we got enough of those tonight.”

That run, which spanned the last homestand and small parts of two road trips, has come to a screeching halt. The Giants have lost five of six. It seems silly to scoreboard-watch in May, especially when a team is playing like this, but it’s worth noting that the teams the Giants eventually need to catch keep winning. They fell 12 games back of the Rockies and 11 back of the streaking Diamondbacks. They are 9 1/2 back of the Dodgers, who might be the best team in the whole league. 

Matt Cain did his part to allow the Giants to keep pace. He got beat just once in seven sharp innings. The Giants intentionally walked Dansby Swanson to get to Garcia, who bounced a single into left. Brandon Belt had a play at the plate, but his throw was short and hit the runner. A second run scored. 

“That’s tough,” Cain said. “(Garcia) was throwing the ball really good and that’s what it comes down to, you’re looking for that one hit and he did it. He’s a good hitter. We’ve seen it in St. Louis. But it definitely is tough when the pitcher does that … it just stinks on my part to give up a hit to the opposing pitcher.”

Lowrie's big hit sparks A's, gets road trip started right

Lowrie's big hit sparks A's, gets road trip started right

NEW YORK — Jed Lowrie is the counterpoint to the A’s home run-crazed offensive attack.

Sure, the A’s switch-hitting second baseman can muscle up and clear the fence. But Lowrie’s approach is more about spraying base hits all around and using the whole field. He was at it again in Friday’s 4-1 A’s victory over the Yankees, going 3-for-4 and delivering an RBI single that snapped a scoreless tie in the eighth.

“I always have to carry his glove out to second for him because he’s always on base,” shortstop Adam Rosales said. “He looks really good at the plate right now, and he’s kind of just putting us on his back. It’s contagious to see a guy like that doing so well.”

Lowrie bumped his average up to .310 with Friday’s game. Until he grounded out in the sixth, he’d notched hits in seven consecutive at-bats dating back to Tuesday night. That streak fell one shy of the A’s record for most consecutive hits. Three players share the record at eight — Josh Reddick (in 2016), Dave Magadan (1997) and Brent Gates (1994).

“It’s all about the work,” said Lowrie, whose 15 doubles are tied for third in the AL. “Everything comes together when you’re seeing it well. I’m seeing it well but the approach hasn’t changed.”

With two runners aboard and two out in the eighth, Lowrie punched an RBI single to right off Tyler Clippard for the game’s first run. It was the breakthrough the A’s needed after they’d struck out 13 times in seven innings against Yankees starter Masahiro Tanaka. Khris Davis followed Lowrie’s hit by beating out an infield single to score another run. Then Stephen Vogt added a two-run homer in top of the ninth to make it 4-0, and that provided some cushion as closer Santiago Casilla gave up a run and made things tenser than they should have been in the bottom half.

Davis, the most fearsome hitter in Oakland’s lineup, is thrilled to have a productive Lowrie batting in front of him as the No. 3 man.

“Somebody’s gotta hit .300,” Davis said. “All year he’s been our most consistent hitter and best hitter. I hope he keeps going.”

The A’s have won four in a row at Yankee Stadium dating back to last year. It’s their longest winning streak in the Bronx since a four-gamer at the old stadium in 2006. And it was a good way to begin a seven-game road trip for the A’s, who came in with the league’s worst road record at 6-15.

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Rosales had puffiness under his right eye and said he was anticipating a shiner after his hard head-first dive into third base didn’t go as planned in the eighth. He scraped up his face pretty good after going first to third on an errant pickoff throw and taking a hard dive into third, only to find the dirt wasn’t giving.

After addressing reporters, Rosales said he was on his way to find an ice pack.