Sharks

Boone, 49ers have hands full with Wilfork

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Boone, 49ers have hands full with Wilfork

SANTA CLARA – Patriots tackle Vince Wilfork might not have the sexy statistics of, say, an Aldon Smith. But his value to the New England defense was on full display during Monday night’s 42-14 thrashing of the Houston Texans.

Wilfork anchored a defensive line that held star running back Arian Foster to just 46 yards on 15 attempts, for an average of 3.1 yards-per-carry. That includes a 15-yard scamper, and some quick math says Foster had just 31 yards in his other 14 carries combined. The 6-2, 325-pound Wilfork finished with four tackles, one for a loss, and one sack – just his second of the season.

While Wilfork’s stats don’t leap off the page, Greg Roman, the 49ers’ offensive coordinator, knows how valuable the nine-year pro is to his team.

“Their front seven is as stout as I’ve seen and it starts with the big guy, Wilfork, who’s a tremendous athlete for his size,” Roman said on Wednesday. “I think everybody got to see him on display last week against the Texans.”

“He’s a heck of a player, and has a great understanding of the game,” Jim Harbaugh said. “I think the big thing is how well they play together as a defensive line.”

Third-year lineman Alex Boone will play the role of trying to nullify Wilfork to protect the quarterback and create room for running backs Frank Gore and LaMichael James. Boone knows he’ll have his hands full.

“It will be a challenge,” Boone said. “He’s quick off the ball, he’s explosive for a big guy, and I think he’s strong. It’s just going to come down to fundamentals with him, and really just knowing it’s going to be a full day.”

Would Boone compare Wilfolk to anyone he’s seen so far in his brief career?

“I want to say he’s like an Isaac [Sopoaga]. He’s big, and you look at him and know he’s big, but you don’t think he’s going to be quick, but then he turns out to be quick,” Boone said. “Strong, good movement, and if you give him a weakness I think he’ll capitalize on it.”

While Roman and Boone were quick to praise Wilfork’s skills, WIlfork was just as complimentary towards San Francisco, as the two second-seeded clubs prepare for their Sunday night showdown at Gillette Stadium in front of a national audience.

In fact, Wilfork sounded genuinely sincere in an interview on Wednesday that was posted to the Patriots’ website, when he spoke with New England reporters about the 49ers’ offense.

“I’ve never seen an offense like this, because they can do so many different things,” Wilfork said. “It’s not an offense where you can say ‘when they line up like this they’re going to do this, or this guy is going to do this,’ because it seems like everybody who touches the ball is very dangerous, from the receivers to the backs to the quarterbacks.

“We’re going to have to basically get back to fundamentals, playing good football, and just learn on the go. Just play what we see. I’m pretty sure this week is going to be very, very crucial for us getting back to the sidelines every series to go over things that they’re doing different.”

Wilfork also sees a dynamic player in quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

“He definitely can hurt you running the ball, and he’s a pretty good passer,” Wilfork said. “Normally when you have a guy that can run as well as a running back or a receiver, you have a negative. Most of the time as a quarterback, it’s being able to stand in the pocket and throw the ball, but this guy, I mean, he can throw the football. He has a strong arm, is pretty accurate, and for the most part he makes good decisions.”

Labanc, Sharks overcoming even strength scoring woes

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USATSI

Labanc, Sharks overcoming even strength scoring woes

Kevin Labanc’s first period goal in the Sharks’ Sunday win over the Ducks certainly didn’t look like it was just his fifth of the season, or only his third since opening night.

The 22-year-old, sprung in alone on a breakaway, sold Anaheim goaltender John Gibson on a fake shot with a leg kick, and snapped the puck past him into the top corner. You know a ‘goal-scorers goal’ when you see it, and you saw it 3:38 into the second period.

Labanc not only broke a 12-game, month-long goalless drought, but picked up his third point in as many games after scoring zero in his previous six. Despite his emergence as a force on the power play, all three points came during five-on-five play.

He’s generated six scoring chances in five-on-five situations in his last three games, according to Natural Stat Trick. That’s as many as Labanc accounted for in the six games preceding this run.

The same can be said about his five-on-five shot attempts (seven) and high-danger chances (two). His six shots on goal in his last three games are just one shy of also matching his five-on-five output over his six games prior.

In those categories, Labanc ranks third, third, and tied for second among Sharks forwards, as well as third in five-on-five scoring chances. He’s also tied with Mikkel Boedker for the forward-lead in five-on-five points over the last three games, despite playing only the eighth-most five-on-five minutes.

As Labanc’s broken out of an extended slump, so have the Sharks. Since returning from the bye week on Jan. 13, San Jose is fifth in five-on-five scoring rate (3.1 goals for/60 minutes), compared to 28th before their bye (1.91).

They’re also 5-1-0 during that time.

The Sharks, much like Labanc, were too reliant upon power play production prior to the NHL-mandated week off. Over half of Labanc’s points came with (at least) a man advantage, and 32 of San Jose’s 108 were scored on the power play.

Since, the second-year forward has only scored five-on-five points, while only five of the Sharks’ 23 goals were power play tallies. The power play’s still converting, but it’s not been the sole driver of San Jose’s offense.

It’s only a six-game sample, but the early five-on-five, post-bye week returns are promising for Labanc and the Sharks. The next step for both is to maintain that pace.

If Labanc and San Jose can, the Sharks may not need to shop for a top-six winger at the trade deadline after all.

Sharks dominate Ducks for two wins in two nights

Sharks dominate Ducks for two wins in two nights

BOX SCORE

ANAHEIM -- Mikkel Boedker had two goals and an assist, Joe Thornton had a goal and an assist, and the San Jose Sharks beat the Anaheim Ducks 6-2 on Sunday night.

Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Kevin Labanc and Melker Karlsson also scored for the Sharks, who have won five of six. Aaron Dell stopped 33 shots.

Rickard Rakell and Ryan Getzlaf scored for Anaheim. John Gibson stopped only 17 of 22 shots and was replaced after giving up his fifth goal. Anaheim had a four-game home winning streak snapped.

Four goals came in the third period. First, Anaheim pulled within one when Ondrej Kase stole the puck from behind the net and quickly fed Getzlaf, who fired it past Dell.

One minute later, the Sharks answered when Thornton's slap shot went in.

Boedker's second goal gave San Joe a 5-2 lead, and Karlsson's goal on goalie Ryan Miller made it a runaway.

The Ducks first found the net in the final minute of the second period, but that took a two-man advantage and a bit of luck.

Rakell was camped a few feet below the crease when he snapped a shot. San Jose's Justin Braun stuck out a stick, but it deflected the puck off the back of Dell's arm and into the net.

It was Rakell's team-high 17th goal this season.

San Jose appeared to take a commanding 3-0 lead on a power play in the second period. Boedker fired a shot from the top of the right circle that whistled past Gibson.

The Sharks took a 2-0 lead early in the second period when Anaheim's No.1 line turned the puck over. Thornton snapped it out to Labanc, who popped free for a breakaway. He beat Gibson on his short side for his fifth goal.

The Sharks took a 1-0 lead late in the first period on a nifty give-and-go when Tomas Hertl skated down the far side and sent a pass through the legs of Anaheim's Brandon Montour and right to Vlasic in front of the net.

Vlasic snapped it past Gibson for his seventh goal of the season.

UP NEXT

Sharks: Return to San Jose on Tuesday night to play the Jets.

Ducks: Remain at home to play the Rangers on Tuesday night.