Ray Ratto

Ratto: Sharks win Game 3 on McLellan's script


Ratto: Sharks win Game 3 on McLellan's script

Ray Ratto

SAN JOSE -- It seems so easy for the Sharks to play with the Vancouver Canucks -- once you see them actually do it.

They scored early and often. They played to their strengths. They made their power plays count and held serve on just enough big penalty kills. They got another big night, two goals worth, out of Spleenless Patty Marleau. They got a game-winner from Dan Boyle on a third period 5-on-3 advantage. They blocked 26 shots including four in an extended 5-on-3 penalty kill. They got more superb goaltending from Antti Niemi, who is so over his stuttering start against Los Angeles.

And even at that, they escaped on the handle end of a 4-3 close shave in Game 3 of the Western Conference Final because . . . well, because thats just the way theyre doing this job. As close to the third rail as a fellow can get without losing body hair.

And when you throw in the numerous wild cards for Game 4, you lose all sense of where this series is going to go, or how its going to get there.

But well get to that in a minute. Right now, the Sharks are basking in the knowledge that once again, as darkness looms over their futures, they can rise and play big games their way.

Most of it is will, head coach Todd McLellan said when asked to explain the difference in the Sharks pace and discipline from Game 2 to Game 3. Some nights you feel better. Some nights you just have it. Some nights the other team doesn't feel as good. There are physical reasons for it.

There is some tactics to it, but it didn't change much from Game 1 and 2 really. The players will tell you that. It's about executing. When you execute and make plays, you're faster. When you bobble it, you're batting it around, it's in your feet, you're not moving, you're slower. It's as simple as that.

That doesnt explain Marleau or Joe Thornton, who have been on their games since Game 7 of the Detroit series (for Marleau) and the entire postseason (for Thornton). Marleau displayed more energy in Game 3 than he did in the prior three, when he started his five-goals-in-four-games run, and Thornton was at his prohibitive best in helping corral the previous rampant Sedin-Sedin-Burrows line.

We just had our legs, Thornton said. (We) put pucks in where we could get them back, we drew some penalties. When we got our power play, we executed well. But, yeah, just being hard on pucks, retrieving pucks hard. We did that early.

Early enough to the tune of a 3-0 lead after 17 minutes and change, the two Marleau goals and a Ryane Clowe rebound of a Boyle drive.

But the defining moment might have been when the Sharks killed a 5-on-3 disadvantage caused by a burst of Andrew Desjardins misbehaviors. Niemi saved five shots, and Douglas Murray, Joe Pavelski and Ian White combined to block four more to keep the Canucks from making the run that they made in the third period because of a major and game misconduct dealt out to Jamie McGinn for running Aaron Rome from behind.

On a night of misdemeanors and felonies (five of the seven goals came on power plays, a fair number since there were 17 of them), special teams were clearly dominant factors.

But so, too, was San Joses recommitment to detail work, to dealing with Vancouver in groups of five rather than going on little one-on-one raids that distorted their defensive shape and rendered their forechecking attempts inert.

It was, in short, a fine comeback performance that bodes well for . . . well, wait a minute there. We did speak of wild cards here, to wit:

Vancouver may be without its third defense pair, Christian Ehrhoff and Rome, due to injuries caused by Sharks hits. Ehrhoff went off with 5:40 left in the second due to a hit by McGinn, one of the members of McLellans Worcester Surprise, the new fourth line that replaced Ben Eager, Scott Nichol and Benn Ferriero. McGinn also laid out Rome, boarding him with 8:38 and getting a major and an ejection.

McGinn may be suspended for the hit, which resulted in the two third period Vancouver goals, by Dan Hamhuis and Kevin Bieksa.

Logan Couture was laid out in a collision with Clowe 1:59 into the second period, and came back to the bench momentarily before being sent back to the dressing room. McLellan said Couture would play Game 4, but he also gave every indication that Eager would play Game 3, so believe him at your peril.

In short, the Sharks did what they had to do, long enough, to save themselves the danger of facing doom four times in succession. And now, barring the rapture, they have earned not only the right to be confident about Game 4 Sunday, but Game 5 in Vancouver as well.

But dont be surprised if they cut the meat a little fine again. It is what they do. It is the way they do it.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for CSNBayArea.com.

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.