Ray Ratto

Ratto: Three keys for Sharks-Vancouver Game 1


Ratto: Three keys for Sharks-Vancouver Game 1


VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- With the Stanley Cup Western Conference Final only hours away, here are some things you havent thought of -- mostly because nobody in their right mind would.

1. The Better Backup Goaltender
Both Antero Niittymaki and Cory Schneider have regained the rust they accumulated down the stretch, after being quite busy in the first round. Schneider got into three games in the Chicago series while Roberto Luongo, but didnt materially change any of them because Vancouver lost all three. Niittymaki, on the other hand, bailed Antti Niemi out twice against Los Angeles, and had better numbers doing so.
The Edge: Niittymaki, because he wears a jauntier ball cap on the bench.

RELATED: Former Canuck Wellwood a factor for Sharks

2. The Better Agitator
Not even close. Ben Eager can be a bit of a freight train when he gets ice time for San Jose, but Raffi Torres is a more persistent pest, and one that a few Sharks remember from the way he scraped them five years ago when Torres with Edmonton. Not really a fair fight, really, as Eager hasnt played much, while Torres gets regular shifts. In addition, Maxim Lapierre gives the Canucks depth in annoyance numbers, for maximum coverage and irritancy.
The Edge: Torres, for style and persistence. Plus a maniacal look of incipient menace the girls all love.

3. The Better Faceoff Cheat
This can be taken one of two ways. Are you a good faceoff cheat because you dont get caught, or because you always get caught. Vancouver only has three consistent draw-takers, Ryan Kesler, Henrik Sedin and Lapierre. Of the three, Sedin is most likely to get the arm, while Kesler seems to take every draw without issue. For the Sharks, Joe Thornton is a linesmans favorite for both actual and perceived jumpiness, an thats a problem, as Thornton has won more than 60 percent of his faceoffs in the postseason, behind only Bostons Patrice Bergeron.
The Edge: Thornton, who gets caught a lot but doesnt seem to mind being chastised repeatedly by men in unfashionable stripes.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for Comcast SportsNet Bay Area.

MLS respects timing more than dominance, so Quakes have a counterpuncher's chance


MLS respects timing more than dominance, so Quakes have a counterpuncher's chance

The San Jose Earthquakes cheated the reaper Sunday, which is news in and of itself. I mean, they’re a playoff team so rarely that getting to a 35th game is quite the achievement, and they should not begin the arduous process of sobering up until Tuesday morning.

I mean, their playoff game with Vancouver is Wednesday night, so slapping themselves back into form is probably a priority.

They got an improbable stoppage time goal from Marco Urena Sunday against Minnesota to sneak through the back door into the final Western Conference playoff spot Sunday, their first appearance in the postseason in five years. It was as electrifying a moment as Avaya Stadium has seen since it opened, and one of the best goals in franchise history if only for its importance.

That said, the Quakes also enter the postseason with a losing record (13-14-7) and the worst goal difference (minus-21) for any playoff team in league history. They are the most cinder-based of the league’s Cinderella stories, and are dismissed with prejudice by most observers as being as one-and-done as one-and-done can be without being none-and-done.

This is a league, though, that has respected timing more than dominance. In 2016, the Montreal Impact finished last in the East and got to the conference final; in 2012, Houston (which was a relocated Quakes team) just snuck in to the postseason and reached the final; in 2005 and 2009, the worst (Los Angeles and Real Salt Lake) ended up first.

In other words, the Quakes’ pedigree, modest though it is, still allows it a counterpuncher’s chance. Its attack, which is third-worst in the league, playoffs or no, is matched by its defense, which is fourth-worst in the league. Their years as a de facto vehicle for Chris Wondolowski are coming to a close, sooner rather than later. They are in no way an elegant team. They are working on their second coach of the year (Chris Leitch).

But therein lies their mutating charm. Their postseason pedigree stinks, but there is a no compelling reason why they cannot cheat a result or two. After all, the lower scoring a sport is, the greater chance for an upset, and the Quakes’ history screams that no franchise could use one more.

So they head for Vancouver, a raucous crowd and a difficult side, carrying with them only their humble resume and the indomitable cheek demanded of the upstart. I mean, anybody in their right mind would much prefer the Whitecaps’ chances, but you gotta be who you gotta be.

Plus, the Quakes are getting a 35th game, which is more than they had a right to expect, all things considered.

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.