Ray Ratto

Ratto: Sharks simply outplayed, outworked


Ratto: Sharks simply outplayed, outworked

May 10, 2011


Ray RattoCSNCalifornia.com

DETROIT -- The Detroit Red Wings are smelling like an overwhelming favorite now, and they should be. In fact, the only thing that the San Jose Sharks have any business clinging to right now is the hope that momentum in hockey is still a liar.Once again poised to finish a series that isnt finished with them, the Sharks put out a monumentally inert performance at Joe Louis Arena Thursday night, losing 7-1 despite the fact the Wings actually only scored two goals. Thats how bad Tuesday was, and how much closer to reality the difference between the two teams seems to be.San Jose had a lead for nearly seven minutes of this game, and if youre looking for it now, see miscarriage of justice. And if you think thats harsh, check with Todd McLellan, who is way more invested than any of you.

Ahead in the third period? the Sharks coach said when asked to refer to Logan Coutures goal at 3:54 and how it might have resembled the leads they blew in Game 5. We were very fortunate to still be in the game in the third period. We could have been down 4-0 or 5-0.Those were, in fact, the numbers Couture seized upon as well.We just werent very good at all, he said, minimizing the teams culpability while owning up to the general tenor of the room and its ambiance. It could really have been four or five. Nemo (goalie Antti Niemi) stood on his head for us, and we let him down.
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And in spectacular fashion at that. Outshot, outchanced, outworked, out-everythinged, the Sharks are now pushing a refrigerator up a greased hill away from becoming the fourth team in NHL history to blow a 3-0 lead and be eliminated from a playoff series they (a) thought theyd all but won, and (b) was their likely ticket to the Stanley Cup Final theyve never had.They were, in short, crushed, on a night when they needed to be anything but.
"You cant take much out of this game other than Nemo was great, defenseman Douglas Murray said. We put up an embarrassing effort. Its nothing to do with Xs and Os. Its about whatever it takes to get yourself ready. We werent skating, we werent making quick plays, we werent doing anything right. This was unacceptable. But we have to move away from it. Weve got an important game Thursday.
Niemi was brilliant as Couture and Murray said, turning away 42 of 44 shots, including 18 in the first period alone. But that was it for uplifting moments. The rest was one long, indistinct gray smear of mistakes, indolence and maybe even intimidation by a Detroit team that is turning back a little more body clock each night. They are now at May 2009, and with a full head of steam toward 2008 -- the last year they won the Cup.Again, the Sharks did have their lead, on a neat little goal by Couture not quite four minutes into the third period. He followed a Dany Heatley shot with a seemingly pedestrian shot at Jimmy Howard, San Joses 16th of the night, that trickled between the goalies leg pads and just barely over the line. It needed a long look from the gargoyles in Toronto who review all dubious goals, but they saw what the goal judge did not -- that the Sharks had defied the run of play and taken a 1-0 lead.
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And that was the end of San Joses highlight reel. Detroit regained the play and kept it through the auspices of third-line center Valtteri Filppula. He created one goal with a 100-foot rush and a pass to defenseman Niklas Kronwall at the top of the right circle that Henrik Zetterberg deflected home at 10:38.Then he scored the game-winner himself by standing in the way of a Couture clearing attempt, finding the magnificent Pavel Datsyuk who in turn found him at the side of an open net (Niemi failed Tuesday to consistently be in four places at once) for the winner at 12:32.That was a bad play by me, Couture said, owning up to the painfully evident. I was trying to put it up the boards and have Mitchie (Torrey Mitchell) skate onto it, and I put it right to (Filppula). That cant happen in the playoffs. I wish I could go back and do it again differently.So do the Sharks, but they did it the way theyve done it so many times before, which is how they got their reputation as The Little Engine That Could, But Doesnt. Of all their playoff failures, this will be the defining one, the jewel in the crown, the ace that wins all hands.Unless, through some defiance of the laws of physics that talk about bodies in motion and bodies at rest, they actually win Game 7 Thursday night at Le Pavillon du HP. That is still a possible outcome.But based on what we have seen, and what we saw in what looked like 5-D HiDef Tuesday, that is absolutely not the way to bet.Ray Ratto is a columnist with Comcast SportsNet Bay Area.

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.