Have Sharks, McLellan run out of options?


Have Sharks, McLellan run out of options?

May 19, 2011

Tim Panaccio

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- The looks of frustration, anguish, and maybe even a hint of resignation, could be found on some of the Sharks' faces after Wednesdays 7-3 dismemberment in Vancouver.

Coach Todd McLellan may have run out of options in how to defense the fastest team in the league. Once again, the Canucks made his club look pedestrian by comparison.

And while not-so gentle Ben Eager played a huge role in giving the Canucks third period momentum -- which they would use in spades, to take a one-goal game and blow it apart -- McLellan dissected one play, one goal that Eager had nothing to do with as the evening's pivotal moment.

I thought one of the turning points, in my opinion, was their third goal, McLellan said. We have a set forecheck. We've practiced that since September. A player gets skated, all of a sudden it's in your net.

You can't chase this team. They're too good. You have to play with him or ahead of them. From there it started to unravel.

He was referring to Kevin Bieksas goal at 12:05 on a marvelous stretch pass from Chris Higgins, who, incidentally, had a three-point night.

While most of Vancouvers players have jet fuel inside their skates, Bieksa is different. Hes more regular at 87 grade. There is nothing particularly explosive about his skating style, either.

And yet the Canucks defenseman was able to take that pass around Douglas Murray and Dan Boyle, then skate in alone for a leisurely breakaway goal on Antti Niemi that snapped a 2-2 tie.

The Sharks were never in the game after that.

Bieksa had a goal, an assist, and of course the fight with Patrick Marleau that incensed Eager and led to him running Daniel Sedin, setting in a motion a chain of cataclysmic events the Sharks could not reverse.

Bieksa took some ribbing from his Canucks teammates on his Gordie Howe hat trick, too.

Yeah, I've heard about it, Bieksa said. It's great, I guess. The main thing is we got the win, so that's why I'm happy.

When McLellan mentioned the amount of open ice the Sharks conceded in Game 2, Bieksa was a prime example. He was actually a part of two breakaway goals. A defenseman joining, even leading the rush -- that was Bieksa on Wednesday.

I wouldn't say I'm getting any more chances than usual, Bieksa said. There's opportunities in a game where you can jump up in the play. That was one.

When there was the opportunity to make an odd-man rush, you go. All six of us have the green light to do that. It was just a set play drawn up for a breakout. There was some open ice and I just took it.

McLellan said the Canucks seem to be doing a better job of making all the intangibles work for them two games into the series. Vancouver can sweep the Sharks out of the Western Conference Final this weekend in San Jose.

You have to perfect the minor details, he said. And they're doing a much better job of it, whether it's faceoff coverage, whether it's a set forecheck, whether it's just their first goal.

Penalty killing, it's on their tape. We're 20 seconds left into a penalty kill, we want to play one-on-one in the neutral zone. They're doing a much better job of those little details than we are right now.

He wouldnt say it publicly, but when he called out a few people in our group, who are not bringing enough to the ice, he likely meant Dany Heatley, Boyle, Devin Setoguchi and Ryane Clowe ... just to name a few.

Setoguchi and Murray were both minus-3 in Game 2. Boyle was minus-2.

I think we have to give credit to the opponent and we have to remember they're playing awfully hard, they have a good game plan, and they're executing it better than we're executing ours, McLellan said.

They're playing a little bit harder than we are. As a result, you tend to make more mistakes, you tend to get frustrated. When you get frustrated, you tend to take penalties. It's just a vicious circle.

One in which the Canucks are giving the Sharks the run around.
Tim Panaccio is the NHL Insider for E-mail him at

Three things you need to know from Raiders’ 31-30 victory over Chiefs


Three things you need to know from Raiders’ 31-30 victory over Chiefs

OAKLAND – Three things you need to know about the Raiders’ 31-30 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs on Thursday night:

1. Back from the brink

The Raiders are still under .500. They face an uphill climb getting back into playoff consideration following a crippling four-game losing streak.

Still. 3-4 is a whole heck of a lot better than the alternative.

“Yeah, 2-5 did not sound good,” quarterback Derek Carr said. “That made our stomach hurt. We wanted to come out here and get a big win. This is a big win. For our team, especially with the adversity we’ve gone through.”

The Raiders looked lost during their downturn, when a loaded offense averaged 13.1 points per game. They fell to 14th in the AFC and last in their division. Perceived strengths proved suspect. Everything was called into question.

If the Raiders were drowning, Thursday was that point in the movie where the hero reappears taking a huge, dramatic breath.

The Raiders are alive again, especially in beating the AFC West leading Kansas City Chiefs. There’s work ahead to make it more than a really fun night, but Thursday proved their survival instincts are still keen.

“It felt good,” left tackle Donald Penn said. “I wish it would have happened a few weeks ago. We wouldn’t be sitting here like that. You all would have been talking like ‘OK, we’re on a run.' I’m glad to get things going.

“I told them today I was going to go out there and let it rip. I told some other guys to go out there and let it rip. This offense was trying to be too perfect. We had high hopes going into the season when we started, then we hit adversity. We couldn’t find a way to get out of there fast enough. Now we’re getting out of this, but we have to keep it going. One thing we have been doing is we’ve been working as hard as we do every week. It’s starting to pay off.”

2. Dormant volcano erupts

The Raiders offense was horrible four straight games. The season’s first two games proved what a loaded unit can do when functioning well, but those efforts got lost in a wash of bad play.

An MVP-caliber quarterback’s play was openly questioned for the first time. So was a bright young coordinator taking shrapnel for the team’s misgivings. Averaging 13 points per game will make a fan base an angry mob. The offense grossly underperformed, but raw talent didn’t diminish.

Production was hot lava, bubbling underneath the surface. It erupted on Thursday night, with the previously cautious Raiders offense opened up and consistently took yards in chunks.

In doing so, a lost offense may have found an identity, a fallback: The Raiders can flat out sling it.

Quarterback Derek Carr was throwing darts all over the field, completing 29-of-52 passes for 417 yards and three touchdowns. He averaged 8.0 yards per pass play and, at times, threw people open or allowed receivers to make a play in tight coverage.

Pass catchers certainly did that. Amari Cooper had 11 catches for 210 and two scores. Tight end Jared Cook had six receptions for 107 yards. Michael Crabtree only had 24 yards, but snagged the game-deciding touchdown.

It felt and looked like the Raiders offense everyone expected each week, finally back on track. That was clear after Carr threw Amari Cooper a touchdown pass the first two drives.

“We struggled to do a lot of things over the last month,” Carr said. “To start fast, again I think that gives life to a team. That’s a sense of hope, which we always have and belief and those kind of things, but to start fast, it always just gives your team a little boost at the beginning that you have to have.”

In previous weeks, the Raiders were wound too tight. They strived for perfection and failed to attain anything close. They just let loose, and went for it. An offense with no TNT blew up, to the tune of six explosive plays.

“We got so many weapons, we got so many explosive athletes on our offense but just in these last four games that we loss we were just so out of whack,” running back Jalen Richard said. “It was little stuff here and there, technical, maybe a missed assignment here and there. Guys were doing their thing, guys were playing hard. We believed the whole game even when we got down a little bit. We pulled through and got the win.”

3. Return of the 2016 Raiders

Last season’s Raiders owned the fourth quarter. They generated seven come-from-behind victories last season thanks to offensive magic and timely defense.

That’s how they erased a nine-point, fourth-quarter deficit against Kansas City. They never wavered, even in tough times. The defense provided opportunity. With two minutes remaining, the offense got it done.

Derek Carr orchestrated an 11-play, 85-yard drive that ended with a touchdown pass to Crabtree on the second straight untimed down brought on by defensive penalty.

That moment produced great emotion. It should’ve after completing one of the wildest comebacks in franchise history. The drive itself, however, was clinical.

The Raiders believed they would score. They expected it.

"There was no panic, or anxiety or anything like that,” left guard Kelechi Osemele said. “We were going to get the job done. There was never, ever any doubt.”

That’s exactly what last year’s Raiders did. On the regular. They couldn’t respond well to adversity in recent games. They found their magic on Thursday night.

Mark your calendars right now for Raiders-Chiefs 2.0 in December


Mark your calendars right now for Raiders-Chiefs 2.0 in December

In case you were asking, and you shouldn’t have been because this game deserves to be savored a bit longer, it’s December 10.
That’s when the Kansas City Chiefs and Oakland Raiders play each other again, in case Thursday night wasn’t good enough for you.

You philistines.

And while there are some folks who won’t be happy (those who like the Chiefs or bet the Chiefs), there won’t be a more magnificently bizarre game this NFL season – because these two teams are exactly that.
The Chiefs, who two weeks ago were the best team in football as voted on by the instant punditocracy, made enough mistakes in the last two minutes of Thursday’s 31-30 defeat to lose 47-10.
And the Raiders did the same, capped off by Marshawn Lynch’s gloriously Oaklandish reaction to fellow citizen Marcus Peters’ late hit on Derek Carr – namely, “I got your rules and your respect for officials right here!”
But in the end – the glorious, bizarre, untimed end – the Raiders saved themselves from pre-Halloween doom, the Chiefs reverted to the team you can never fully trust, and the rest of the NFL can only shake its collective neckless head in wonderment at the power of the old American Football League.
Because that, ultimately, is what this was – a game out of time. This was a throwback game, all the way back to the mid- to late-60s, when the Raiders and Chiefs hated each other not out of historical duty but out of genuine solar-generated animosity. When they both played as though their cars were being looted in the parking lot, and when 750-yard combined passing nights were actually not that unusual. They were hell-bent then, and Thursday showed that they still have that bent in their DNA even now.
This was that era, played out in a way that old Raider and Chiefs fans can tell their grandchildren, “Now you’re sitting there scratching your head and all, but I’m telling you that used to happen all the time. You think Marcus Peters was bad? Google Ben Davidson on Len Dawson, little Tad.”
And it ended the only way it could for the good of the rivalry – with Oakland winning, and in the most staggeringly improbable way.
Not because the Raiders are more noble human beings or a superior life form from a time long ago, but because that December 10 game needs to mean something. The Raiders needed to win Thursday because losing meant their playoff hopes would be deservedly dead, and their remaining nine games would be reduced to competitive afterthoughts, and the year would be reduced to wondering why what should have been never came close to happening.
And the Chiefs needed to lose because running away with a division this difficult just seems wrong. There is nothing that says Kansas City isn’t better than Denver, or Oakland or the Fightin’ StubHubs, but it shouldn’t be this easy. The Patriots may have eaten the AFC East and spit the bones into a dumpster long ago, but the AFC West clung harder to its AFL roots than the East ever did.
And Thursday was the evidence required to show that, at least for the Chiefs and Raiders, the old days can be recreated with a keen eye for the most malevolent details and the most bizarre turns of fortune.
Call it nostalgia on crank – seemingly the only thing we have left that can bond the generations in these otherwise mean-spirited days.