Ray Ratto

Ratto: Kings-Sharks series defies momentum


Ratto: Kings-Sharks series defies momentum

Ray RattoCSNBayArea.com

First things first, as they say in J-school. The Sharks arent making a goaltending change for Game 4 of their gravity-mocking series with the Los Angeles Kings. And we know this because the person who would benefit most from it says so.I think theyll go with Nemo, backup Antero Niittymaki said with his perpetually impish grin, referring to starter Antti Niemi. Thats what I would do.NEWS: Sharks' McLellan leaning toward Niemi for Game 4
Since Niittymaki is the one who rescued Niemi from a nightmarish 20 minutes and change at Staples Center Tuesday night in the Sharks 6-5 overtime win over Los Angeles in Game 3, one would think hed be inclined as any backup goaltender would to want to press his advantage.But Niittymaki wasnt born a week ago Friday, and he knows how these things work. Goaltenders arent a tuna melt with peppers; you dont call the waiter over and say you want something else.RELATED: Unbelievable! Sharks battle for O.T. win
Well talk about it as a staff, head coach Todd McLellan said reflexively, but I think were leaning toward Nemo. Id say thats probably how were going to go.In other words, the decisions been made. Calm down. Theyre dancing with who brung them. For the moment.Wednesday was not really about the goaltending anyway. Most of the players and staff basically tried to make more complete sense of the disappearing 4-0 Kings lead, their role in it, and how the tide turned. They failed, because they all had different versions of when it turned.Actually, I sort of thought it was when we scored our first goal, assistant coach Trent Yawney said of Patrick Marleaus second period goal, which came less than three minutes after Brad Richardson scored L.A.s fourth goal and chased Niemi. I could feel the energy start to pick up on our bench, but I looked over to their side and I kind of got the feeling that they sagged a little bit, like, Theyre not out of this yet.I sort of got the sense when we got that power play goal, Dany Heatley said of Ryane Clowes goal, San Joses second, at 6:53. It was the first power play goal wed gotten, and that kind of broke everything up a little bit. I kind of got the sense we were getting back into the game.RATTO: Seto, Sharks now linked to 'Shocker at Staples'
The last two, McLellan said of the Clowe and Joe Pavelski goals 85 second and then 31 seconds from the end of the second. I thought we were a little knocked back when they got their fifth (from Ryan Smyth) because it was a four-on-four and we got some guys caught up ice a bit. But when we came back and got (the goals) from Clowie and Pav (Joe Pavelski), I thought that changed everything.I mean, wed been playing pretty well in the period, and if we went into the room with the Smyth goal, well, we didnt know for sure how we would respond.Then again, the Sharks always give off that vibe. You never know what you get, or what youre seeing. McLellan, for example, saw the same 3-0 deficit everyone else saw after one period and made a point not to crush the employees when anyone else might have.The first goal, Nemo would like to get back, sure, he said of Willie Mitchells sharp-angled drive that ticked off Niemis glove. The second one they just threw something at the net and it hit one of our guys or it hit a stick or something, and the third one . . . who got that one, anyway?Michal Handzus.Okay, point is, we were putting in the effort. It wasnt like Game 2. Were down 3-0, sure, but its not like we were just standing around. There was no point in yelling and screaming at them, because they know when theyre putting in the work. And they were.And eventually, they got paid in full, in one of the four finest comebacks in Stanley Cup history behind, most notably, the Miracle on Manchester, in which the Kings came back from 5-0 to beat the Edmonton Gretzkys at the old Forum in 1982.Naturally, this leads to the always hilarious question, So who has the momentum now? And with the Sharks, momentum questions have the same validity as If you could be a five-legged unicorn with a degree from Dartmouth, what color would you want your best friend unicorn to be?The Sharks dont know. They dont even pretend to know any more. The closest anyone came to saying so was when Devin Setoguchi, the man who scored the game-winner on an elegant pass from Marleau, said, Youd like to think its us, but well see.He sounded like he was just as curious to find out as anyone. Including Antti Niemi, the once and future goaltender. What's your take? Email Ray and let him know. He may use it in his Mailbag.

Dusty Baker's postseason agonies and his Hall of Fame candidacy


Dusty Baker's postseason agonies and his Hall of Fame candidacy

Dusty Baker’s face tells a lot of different stories, but there is only one it tells in October.

Disappointment. Deflating, soul-crushing, hopeless disappointment.

With Thursday night’s National League Division Series defeat to the Chicago Cubs, the Washington Nationals have reinforced their place in the panoply of the capital’s legacy of failure.

But Baker’s agonies extend far further. His 3,500 games rank him 15th all-time, and only one manager above him, Gene Mauch, is not in the Hall of Fame. His 105 postseason games ranks seventh all-time, and his nine postseason appearances ranks sixth.

But his postseason record of 44-61 and no World Series titles curse him. He has been on the mailed backhand of eight series losses in 11 tries (plus a play-in game loss in 2013), and been marked by the media-ocracy as an old-school players’ manager who doesn’t wrap himself in the comforting embrace of statistical analysis.

He is now Marv Levy and Don Nelson – the good manager who can’t win the big one.

Only Levy and Nelson are in their respective halls of fame, and Baker probably won’t be. Having no World Series titles (his bullpen dying in 2002 being as close as he ever got) dooms him as it has doomed Mauch, although Mauch made his reputation as a brilliant tactician with bad teams.

But even if you take Baker’s worst metric – the postseason record – he still ranks in the 90th percentile of the 699 managers in the game’s history, though even then there’s the caveat of the 200 some-odd interim managers who you may choose not to count.

This is not to claim he should be in the Hall of Fame. This is to claim he should be discussed, if only to determine if reputations in the postseason are the only way managers are allowed to be evaluated. Because if that’s the case, Dusty Baker’s world-weary October face makes that conversation a very short one.


U.S. Soccer: Patriotism-fueled frontrunning born of inexcusable arrogance


U.S. Soccer: Patriotism-fueled frontrunning born of inexcusable arrogance

So Bruce Arena resigned as the U.S. National soccer team coach Friday. Big damned deal.

Oh, it is to him. He probably liked the job, and might have wanted to keep getting paid.

But whether he’s there or isn’t doesn’t matter. In fact, whether the people who hired him are there or not doesn’t matter either. U.S. Soccer is the definition of sporadic interest and patriotism-fueled frontrunning, of imbedded self-interest and general indolence, all born of inexcusable arrogance.

Bruce Arena didn’t bring that to the job, nor does he remove it by leaving. He’s just another head on a spike, like Jurgen Klinsmann was before him, and Bob Bradley before him.

But that would also be true if the head of U.S. Soccer, Sunil Gulati, quit or was fired too. Even the people bleating that the U.S. shamed itself by losing to Trinidad and Tobago display the same kind of blinkered ignorance and arrogance that dogs this sport in America.

Being in CONCACAF is a gift from the heavens, and the U.S. has decided as a national collective to replace that with actual achievement. Beating Germany in friendly is proof of long-term worth. The fact is, we don’t know how to evaluate America’s place in the soccer world except as an audience, let alone how much massive structural change is required to change that.

And change must be massive, and can’t be evaluated by the next cheap win or the next galling loss, or television ratings. America is good at watching soccer, good enough to catch on the actual chasm between its national team and development structure.

But that’s where it ends, because knowing what’s bad because you just watched it, or what is actually good (like, say, a UEFA or CONMEBOL qualifier) is light years from knowing how to fix a system built on the flawed concepts of work rate without creativity and money as a solution to crippling organizational problems.

So Bruce Arena does the decent thing given the circumstances, falling on a sword that should actually be a kebab skewer. But it makes no difference. The American soccer structure needs to get what it needs before it can get what it wants, and there are no more shortcuts to take in a short-attention-span world.