49ers

Sharks may be hot, but hockey spits on momentum

726818.jpg

Sharks may be hot, but hockey spits on momentum

The first few days of the Stanley Cup Playoffs are spent going through the handy-dandy record book looking for historical hints to lead one through the early traps.

It is a useless exercise, though. There is nothing more immediate and less history-based than the Stanley Cup. Even regular season form is often a lie, even if recent looks through the playoff brackets show us that seven-seeds, just to pick something the Sharks are, go down almost three-quarters of the time.

But there is one thing that is actually a real nag for San Jose the penalty kill. No team has been this bad killing shorthanded situations and made the playoffs in 15 years; in 1997, both the New York Rangers and Montreal Canadiens made the playoffs despite being the worst penalty killers in the league. Before that, the 94 Sharks managed a similar feat.

Thus, while Todd McLellan has already trained the boys to play the underdog card as though they had a deck full of them, the truth is that this is the biggest reason they are underdogs. They stink when the other team has more players.

And with St. Louis having the best home record in the league, and with officials having a hard time resisting the charms of the home team as a general rule, the Sharks will be underdogs until they can reconcile these two facts:

1. They play shorthanded fewer than any other team.

2. They give up the 12th most goals when shorthanded.

Thats fairly awful, and on details like this against a highly disciplined and organized team like St. Louis, the Sharks will either have to cure themselves of something that has afflicted them all year long, or take the pipe quickly and quietly.

San Jose won seven of its last nine games to save itself from golf, and St. Louis lost nine of its final 13 to blow the Presidents Trophy, so momentum presumably is with the Sharks.

But no sport spits on momentum quite like hockey. Every game is different, and wildly so; perhaps you should break down the Sharks-Kings series from last spring for verification of this truth.

This series, rather, will break down on the details, because St. Louis under Ken Hitchcock is all about details and his team is more devoted to them than anyone else in the West. Vancouver wins with speed and improvisation. Phoenix wins with a relentless grinding noise. Nashville wins with the best goalie (Pekka Rinne) and the two best defensemen (Shea Weber and Ryan Suter). Detroit wins on muscle memory.

But San Jose wins by the skin of its incisors, mastering the art of timely inconsistency and the adrenaline of desperation. The Sharks have a power play worthy of the name, a strong top six and a slowly improving third and fourth lines.

But they have done this without any form or sense to their season. Their best advertisement is that they failed to fail, and that they got it right enough often enough at the last possible minute.

And winning teams spot the weakness for which losing teams cannot compensate.

Are the Sharks doomed? No. Those 97 Rangers beat Florida (New York was a five-seed, in case youre asking) and New Jersey (the one-seed) before going down to Philadelphia. And those 94 Sharks popped Detroit as an eight-seed before being schooled by Toronto (when Toronto didnt stink).

But the betting man doesnt like these odds. The betting man may worry that St. Louis hasnt got enough experience on this stage, but he doesnt like the Sharks for more tangible reasons. The betting man would pass on this series entirely.

You, the non-betting fan, cant pass, though. Youre in, come hell or 5-on-3s. Just dont be surprised when the reward for finishing seventh is the traditional one a keychain and a hearty Thanks for playing our game.

Instant Analysis: Turnovers cost 49ers in preseason loss to Broncos

hoyer-fumble-49ers-broncos-ap.jpg
AP

Instant Analysis: Turnovers cost 49ers in preseason loss to Broncos

BOX SCORE

SANTA CLARA – The 49ers don’t have to worry about peaking too soon, that’s for sure.

The 49ers first-team offense was plagued by turnovers and penalties against the Denver Broncos at Levi’s Stadium in the second exhibition game for both teams. And things did not get much better when the backups entered the action.

After two days during which the 49ers more than held their own against Denver in joint practices, there was no debate about which team was better when it was time for a game.

The 49ers put together an all-around sloppy performance -- low-lighted by 11 penalties and five turnovers -- in a 33-14 loss to the Broncos on Saturday night.

While the starters were in the game, the 49ers were outscored 10-0. The 49ers committed six penalties for 53 yards and committed four turnovers in the first half, as the 49ers fell behind 20-0 through two quarters.

“I thought the D did a solid job,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said during his halftime interview on KPIX. “We put them in a bad situation four times, so I was happy that they just held it to what it was.”

Jaquiski Tartt was responsible for one of the giveaways when it was ruled he inadvertently touched the ball on a punt in the first quarter. The Broncos recovered the muffed punt to retain possession.

Quarterback Brian Hoyer lost a fumble when the ball slipped out of his hand as he was throwing. Hoyer was also tagged with an interception. Denver defensive back Chris Lewis-Harris ripped the ball away from Marquise Goodwin as he juggled a Hoyer pass that was thrown behind him.

Running back Tim Hightower lost a fumble in the second quarter.

The Broncos capitalized on those four turnovers for all 20 of their points while shutting out the 49ers through halftime.

The 49ers’ offense showed some signs of life with Hoyer at the controls. The team gained 111 yards on their 22 plays. Hoyer completed 8 of 11 passes for 89 yards before rookie quarterback C.J. Beathard replaced him late in the first half.

Beathard continued to make a strong case to win the backup job. Beathard is in competition with Matt Barkley as the 49ers’ No. 2 quarterback.

Beathard teamed up with his former Iowa teammate, tight end George Kittle, on a 29-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter. Kittle caught the short pass from Beathard, turned up the left sideline, ran through an attempted tackle by Lewis-Harris, then stiff-armed safety Orion Stewart en route to the end zone.

Beathard completed 7 of his 12 pass attempts for 110 yards. His passer rating was 116.7.

FOSTER, BOWMAN START
Linebackers Reuben Foster and NaVorro Bowman, who were limited in the 49ers’ final joint practice with Denver with shoulder ailments, started played 20 snaps apiece.

With Foster and Bowman on the field, the Broncos totaled just 63 yards of total offense. Bowman had two tackles, while Foster added one before the 49ers’ first-team defense was removed in the second quarter.

Foster underwent surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder in February. Some NFL teams reportedly did not believe he would be available to play this season. He was cleared for full-contact drills on the eve of training camp.

The 49ers said Foster’s mild AC joint sprain in his right shoulder was not related to his previous injury. He was held out of contact drills on Thursday. Bowman was pulled out of practice Thursday with a similar condition.

SITTING IT OUT
Players who did not see action due to injuries were: Defensive linemen Aaron Lynch, DeForest Buckner and Ronald Blair, linebacker Sean Porter, defensive backs Will Redmond and Prince Charles Iworah, wide receiver Aaron Burbridge, and guard Joshua Garnett.

Jimmie Ward remains on physical unable to perform due to a hamstring injury. Ward could be activated when the 49ers return to practice.

THIS ‘N’ THAT
--Undrafted rookie Victor Bolden supplied one of the lone highlights for the 49ers with a 104-yard kickoff return late in the fourth quarter.

--Eli Harold started at the strongside linebacker in place of Ahmad Brooks, who entered the game in the second quarter with the second-team defense.

--Broncos quarterback Trevor Siemian connected with Jordan Taylor on a 19-yard touchdown pass against the coverage of newly signed 49ers cornerback Asa Jackson in the second quarter.

--Undrafted rookie Lorenzo Jerome started at free safety for the second game in a row. Jerome recorded two tackles and broke up a pass.

--Goodwin caught three passes for 44 yards. His first two receptions accounted for the first first downs from the 49ers’ No. 1 offense in the exhibition season.

--Rookie pass-rusher Pita Taumoepenu recorded a sack in the fourth quarter.

--The 49ers did not get much going from their top three running backs. Carlos Hyde gained 26 on eight carries. Kapri Bibbs had 6 yards on four carries. And Hightower had minus-1 yard on three attempts.

--Rookie running back Joe Williams entered the game with less than seven minutes to play. Guard Norman Price got blown back into the backfield on Williams second attempt, allowing Broncos defensive lineman Shelby Harris to, in essence, intercept the handoff from Barkley to Willliams.

Instant Analysis: Late TD burns Raiders in preseason loss to Rams

lynch-raiders-post.jpg
USATSI

Instant Analysis: Late TD burns Raiders in preseason loss to Rams

BOX SCORE

OAKLAND – The Raiders sat nine offensive starters in last week’s exhibition opener. That front line assembled for the first time in game Saturday against the Rams and quickly found midseason form.

Quarterback Derek Carr was largely on point in a 21-17 victory to Los Angeles at Oakland Coliseum. Amari Cooper showed great hops. Michael Crabtree juked a cornerback out of his shoes and scored a touchdown. Jared Cook proved a difficult cover in the middle of the field. And Marshawn was predictably Marshawn, running like a battering ram on speed skates.

The defense, by contrast, needs some serious work.

Except for Khalil Mack. That’s dude’s all right. He had a sack, three quarterback pressures, four tackles, with two for a loss, in three series.

The rest of his unit was off kilter against L.A. Communication still needs work on the back end. Questions remain at inside linebacker and cornerback.

Coaches have three weeks to iron things out, and get that unit running right. Here are a few takeaways from Saturday’s exhibition.

Marshawn meets hometown crowd: Oakland native Marshawn Lynch played in his hometown for the first time in silver and black. He didn’t play much, removing his pads after just one series.

His cameo was quick and productive, with two carries for 10 yards. His trademark burst and balance was on display, as it was throughout camp. Lynch won’t need much work this preseason, but should get the lion’s share of carries when games count.

He looks as agile as ever, without the rust expected following a year away from football.

Smith suits up:Raiders cornerback Sean Smith played in sub packages with the starting unit, playing outside in the nickel. He had a relatively solid game despite mounting legal issues. He was charged with felony assault and battery on Thursday, when he turned himself in to Pasadena police and was released after posting an $80,000 bond.

Smith had two tackles and a nice pass defensed covering Sammy Watkins on a deep route.

Jenkins enters the fray: The Raiders are still searching for someone to pair with Cory James on the inside. Marquel Lee has worked with the first unit since training camp began in the base defense. He struggled some early, and gave way to veteran Jelani Jenkins in the second series.
That job remains open. Lee is a favorite, though Jenkins will challenge and prospect of signing someone off the street remains.

Backup quarterbacks still battling

EJ Manuel entered Saturday’s game with a clear lead on the backup quarterback position battle. The veteran received most every second-unit rep in camp, started last week’s game at Arizona and was first off the bench on Saturday.

He wasn’t great against the Rams, completing 3-of-9 passes for 16 yards.

That may have cracked the door for second-year pro Connor Cook. The Michigan State alum has struggled some in practice, but showed well working with the third unit on Saturday. He was with 7-of-10 passing for 70 yards, including a 17-yard touchdown strike to Johnny Holton.