Couture sets record in Sharks' 2-0 win over Caps


Couture sets record in Sharks' 2-0 win over Caps


Kevin Kurz

WASHINGTON Just when it seems like theres nothing more that can be said about Sharks rookie Logan Couture, he goes and does something eye-opening again.This time, it was his seemingly harmless wrist shot from the boards that broke a scoreless tie in helping San Jose to a 2-0 win over the Washington Capitals at the Verizon Center on Tuesday night. The victory stretches San Joses unbeaten-in-regulation streak to 8-0-1, and is the third win in as many games on the teams current road trip.Coutures eighth game-winning goal at 11:55 of the third period was the biggest play of the game.Hes very opportunistic. Some guys are just pure goal scorers, and hes got that, said Dan Boyle, who added an insurance marker for the Sharks a little more than two minutes after Coutures tally. Some of the goals you might do a double-take as to how the puck went in, but it finds a way. Hes just a natural goal scorer.Its getting to the point where you dont want to call him a rookie anymore because he plays big minutes and is scoring huge goals, said coach Todd McLellan.
VIDEO: Todd McLellan postgame
Truth be told, the shot was one that probably should have been stopped by Capitals goaltender Michal Neuvirth. Couture explained how he thought the tough-angle shot found the back of the net.I was going down on a tough angle and didnt see Kyle Wellwood, so I just fired it, he said. I think Neuvirth was thinking pass, because he didnt get down quick enough and it went through his five-hole.Couture certainly wasnt alone in contributing to the win. The Sharks played yet another defensively responsible game, and when there was the rare breakdown, goaltender Antti Niemi was there to make the save. The goaltender recorded his second straight shutout and fourth of the season by making 25 saves.Its been more than 134 minutes since Niemi and the Sharks have allowed a goal, in the third period of last Wednesdays game in Anaheim.Hes smothering pucks, and our D is doing a good job letting him see pucks, said Joe Thornton. Hes in a groove right now, so well keep riding him.Just as he did on Saturday in Boston, Niemi credited a strong presence in front of him in helping to keep the opposition scoring chances to a minimum.We kept doing what we did in Boston, blocking shots and being really tight in at the net, he said.It helped a little bit that the hockey gods were on the Sharks side, as well.Referee Wes McCauleys early whistle in the first period nullified a would-be goal by Washingtons Alex Semin, who was making his return to the Caps lineup after a 12-game absence with a groin injury. Semins shot from the circle hit Niemi, but trickled between the goalies pads and eventually off of his skate and in. McCauley, standing behind the net, thought the puck was frozen and blew it dead.It should have counted.It didnt go straight through; it was going really slow. I dont know how it happened, but of course after that situation you feel a little bit lucky, admitted Niemi.The Sharks outshot the Capitals 15-9 in the first period, but Washington had the better of the scoring chances. The second period was a little bit more buttoned-up than the wide open first, but the teams were still unable to find the back of the net. Washingtons David Steckel had the best chance late in the second, after a bad turnover by Jason Demers at the Sharks defensive blue line with just over a minute remaining. Steckel raced in on a breakaway, but was unable to get a handle on the puck after trying to deke Niemi.Other than the Demers turnover, though, the Sharks defense was nearly flawless. It was a total team effort, according to McLellan.Twenty players dressed, and 20 players contributed, he said. We had great contributions from the third and fourth lines and all six defensemen found a way to have strong nights.Still, the focal point after the game was Couture, who overtook Alex Ovechkin for the league-lead in game-winning goals despite being not all that noticeable through the first two periods.He just competes so hard every night, and to be a 21-year-old kid and so composed and so complete as a hockey player is very, very impressive.San Jose has an opportunity now in its next three games to keep moving up the standings, and currently trails Dallas by just one point for the Pacific Division lead with 64. The Sharks visit Columbus on Wednesday, New Jersey on Friday and Florida on Sunday all teams that are all out of playoff position.After ending the road trip in Nashville on Feb. 15, the Sharks will host these same Capitals in their first home game back on the West Coast on Feb. 17.Until then, the aim is to keep the current streak alive.As good as things are, I dont think you see anyone too excited here, said Boyle. Weve got a lot of work ahead of us. Even with the streak were on, were still right in the middle of everything.

What's caused Warriors' slow start and why it should come as no surprise


What's caused Warriors' slow start and why it should come as no surprise

It’s much too early to get legitimately nervous, much less start tumbling into a panic.

The Warriors are going to be fine.


They most certainly are not yet what they will become in about two weeks, when they settle in for a four-game homestand that begins Nov. 6. That’s 10 games into the season, and it’s conceivable the Warriors might be 6-4.

After a 111-101 loss to the ever-tenacious Grizzlies on Saturday in Memphis, the Warriors are 1-2 and, by their lofty standard, looking about as lost as a stray cat in a hurricane.

“We’re obviously not ready. We knew that,” coach Steve Kerr said. “We’re not ready to put together a full effort. And I’m not doing a great job of putting together combinations, finding the right motivation to get guys going, to get some joy and laughter in here.

“It’s just one of those rough patches. And, hopefully, we can climb our way out of it. I’m sure we will. It may take some time.”

It will take some time, and of that there is plenty.

Do not blame this lull entirely on China, not when there is so much more. The Warriors are coming off their third consecutive prolonged season, this one followed by the training camp disruption caused by spending eight days in Oakland, eight days in China, followed by eight days in Oakland leading up to opening night.

It’s easy to see the timing is off on an offense that relies on precision. The spacing is off on an offense that requires room to operate. The energy is lacking on a defense that lapses into ordinary without its bedrock intensity. Both body and spirit appear less than peak.

“We’ve been playing hard,” Kevin Durant told reporters at FedEx Forum, “but I think we’ve got to take it up a level.

“We’ll be fine. It’s 79 more games left. I’m sure we’ll figure it out.”

Understand, a team that won an NBA-best 67 games last season and posted a league-record 16-1 postseason doesn’t lose it because opponents load up. When the Warriors are on their game, opponents don’t matter.

For now, though, there is an individual listlessness that results in collective slumber. Stephen Curry has gambled himself in foul trouble in both losses and was booted in Memphis. Andre Iguodala missed an entire game and Draymond Green missed the fourth quarter of the first loss, a game in which the Warriors gave up a 13-point lead over the final 12 minutes.

And Durant’s 4.6 blocks per game is impressive. It also happens to be offset by his 6.3 turnovers per game.

“That’s on me,” he said. “I’m turning the ball over at a high rate right now. I’m really pissed at myself about it. I’ve just got to hold on to the ball. Just make the correct pass. I think I’m just rushing. I just need to calm down, settle down, and that would ignite the whole team. But if I turn the ball over, that’s contagious.”

The Rockets turned 17 Warriors giveaways into 21 points. The Pelicans turned 14 into 20. The Grizzlies turned 17 into 24.

Asked what has to change, Klay Thompson went to exactly the right place, saying “probably our defensive intensity from the jump.”

That’s where it starts, at least on the court. Meanwhile, there is more video work, more group texts about details and the need for more time for their bodies and minds to become one.

“We’ll be better,” Durant said. “We’re still finding a groove with each other. We’re still getting back into shape as far as playing our game, the flow, just the reads off not calling plays. We’ve got to get used to that again.”

Thompson is, however, displaying a modicum of impatience.

“We’ll come out Monday and we’ll play a great game,” he said. “I guarantee it.”

He’s probably right. The Warriors will be playing at Dallas, against a Mavericks team that is built to be devoured by the powerful.

That might be a quick fix. But it won’t be the final fix. That is weeks away.

Astros win two straight vs Yankees, advance to take on Dodgers in World Series


Astros win two straight vs Yankees, advance to take on Dodgers in World Series


HOUSTON -- Charlie Morton and Lance McCullers combined on a three-hitter, Jose Altuve and Evan Gattis homered and the Houston Astros reached the World Series, blanking the New York Yankees 4-0 Saturday night in Game 7 of the AL Championship Series.

Just four years removed from their third straight 100-loss season in 2013, the Astros shut down the Yankees for two straight games after dropping three in a row in the Bronx.

Next up for the Astros: Game 1 of the World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Tuesday night. Los Angeles opened as a narrow favorite, but Houston aces Dallas Keuchel and ALCS MVP Justin Verlander will have plenty of rest before the matchup begins at Dodger Stadium.

Houston has never won even a single World Series game. The only previous time the Astros made it this far, they were a National League team when they were swept by the Chicago White Sox in 2005.

Now, manager A.J. Hinch's club has a chance to win that elusive first title, while trying to boost a region still recovering from Hurricane Harvey.

Houston improved to 6-0 at Minute Maid Park in these playoffs and became the fifth team in major league history to win a seven-game postseason series by winning all four of its home games.

Morton bounced back from a loss in Game 3 to allow two hits over five scoreless innings. Starter-turned-postseason reliever McCullers limited the Yankees to just one hit while fanning six over the next four.

Combined, they throttled the wild-card Yankees one last time in Houston. Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez and their New York teammates totaled just three runs in the four road games.

CC Sabathia entered the game 10-0 with a 1.69 ERA in 13 starts this season after a Yankees loss. But he struggled with command and was gone with one out in the fourth inning.

Houston was up 2-0 in fifth when former Yankees star Brian McCann came through for the second straight game by hitting a two-run double after snapping an 0-for-20 skid with an ground-rule RBI double to give Houston its first run on Friday night.

The Yankees, trying to reach the World Series for the first time since 2009, lost an elimination game for the first time this season after winning their first four in these playoffs. New York struggled on the road this postseason, with this loss dropping the team to 1-6.

After going 0 for 5 with runners in scoring position through the first three innings, the Astros got on the board with no outs in the fourth with the 405-foot shot by Gattis off Sabathia which made it 1-0.

Altuve launched a ball off Tommy Kahnle into the seats in right field with one out in the fifth for his fifth homer this postseason. It took a while for him to see that it was going to get out, and held onto his bat until he was halfway to first base before flipping it and trotting around the bases as chants of "MVP" rained down on him.

Altuve finished 8 for 25 with two homers and four RBIs in the ALCS after hitting .533 with three homers and four RBIs in the ALDS against Boston.

Carlos Correa and Yuli Gurriel hit consecutive singles after that before Kahnle struck out Gattis. McCann's two-strike double, which rolled into the corner of right field, cleared the bases to push the lead to 4-0. Gurriel slid to avoid the tag and remained on his belly in a swimming pose at the plate for a few seconds after he was called safe.

It was just the second Game 7 in franchise history for the Astros, who dropped Game 7 to the Cardinals in the 2004 NLCS 13 years ago today.

Sabathia allowed five hits and one run while walking three in 3 1/3 innings. He wasn't nearly as sharp as he was in a Game 3 win and just 36 of the 65 pitches he threw were strikes.

Morton got into trouble in the fifth, and the Yankees had runners at the corners with one out. Bregman fielded a grounder hit by Todd Frazier and made a perfect throw home to allow McCann to tag Greg Bird and preserve Houston's lead. McCann held onto the ball despite Bird's cleat banging into his forearm. Chase Headley grounded out after that to end the inning.

A night after Springer kept Frazier from extra-bases with a leaping catch, Judge returned the favor on a ball hit by Yuli Gurriel. Judge sprinted, jumped and reached into the stands to grab his long fly ball before crashing into the wall and falling to the ground for the first out of the second inning.

Springer had another nifty catch in this one, jumping in front of Marwin Gonzalez at the wall in left-center to grab a ball hit by Bird for the first out of the seventh inning.