Sharks

Welker poses immense challenge for Rogers

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Welker poses immense challenge for Rogers

SANTA CLARA – Carlos Rogers has nothing but dreadful memories of the last time he lined up on the other side of Tom Brady, Wes Welker, and the rest of the potent New England Patriots’ offense.

More than five years ago, on Oct. 28, 2007 while still a member of the Washington Redskins, Rogers saw his club drop a 52-7 decision to the eventual Super Bowl losers. Adding insult to injury – or, in this case, injury to insult – Rogers sustained a disastrous, season-ending torn ACL and MCL in the first quarter.

“Seeing the results of that game – they blew us out, so it wasn’t good,” Rogers said on Wednesday.

Welker, whom Rogers plans on seeing plenty of on Sunday night when the 49ers visit Gillette Stadium, recorded nine catches for 89 yards and a touchdown in that game against the ‘Skins. Although Rogers was knocked from action early, he knows Welker hasn’t become any easier to defend.

The 5-9, 185-pound receiver is third in the NFL in receptions (95) and ninth in yards (1,116). His list of accomplishments hardly ends there, though. The 31-year-old Texas Tech grad has the most receptions in the NFL since 2007 (649); became New England’s all-time reception leader earlier this year; is tied with Jerry Rice with 17, 10-plus reception games in his career; and has 107 straight games with at least one catch.

If he manages to grab hold of five balls against the vaunted San Francisco defense on Sunday, Welker will become the first NFL player all-time with five 100-catch seasons.

What makes him such a threat?

“Number one, his quarterback. Tom makes this offense go,” Rogers said, referring, of course, to Brady.

But there's more.

“Those quick guys like that, when you’re facing those guys, especially with a good quarterback, it’s going to take a lot. Not just me sticking him, it’s going to take [safety] Dashon [Goldson] coming down inside, or some of the d-ends hitting those guys. Giving them different looks. A guy like that, he has experience, too.”

Head coach Jim Harbaugh is confident that Rogers is prepared, but also stressed that stopping Welker won’t fall solely on his Pro Bowl cornerback’s shoulder pads.

“Tremendous receiver. But, Carlos is up for it. He’s equipped for it,” Harbaugh said. “Again, it’s more of a team defense and how they play together than just one guy vs. one guy.”

That includes putting heat on Brady.

“It’s going to take a lot of pressure, Aldon [Smith] and those guys getting to Brady,” Rogers said. “Mix up their looks and get him off his spot, so he’s not just sitting back there baking a cake and picking us apart.”

In a conference call on Wednesday, Welker said of the Niners' D: “They’ve got a lot of good players, a lot of good playmakers, and obviously a really good rush. Their safeties aren’t afraid of contract or anything else, and all-around they’re a great defense. I think it shows.”

The 49ers allow the second-fewest passing yards in the league with 184.7, and since the start of the 2011 season, allow the fewest points-per-game in the NFL (16.3). But, that doesn’t mean they’ve shut down everyone.

In fact, slot receivers like Victor Cruz and Danny Amendola have had success this season against San Francisco. Cruz had six receptions for 58 yards and a touchdown in the Giants’ convincing 26-3 win over the Niners on Oct. 14, while the Rams’ Amendola reeled in 11 catches for 102 yards in a 24-24 tie on Nov. 11.

Rogers said: “We know that we’re going to have to step up and play, and play to the end. Brady’s going to make his plays, the offense is going to make their plays, and we’re going make our plays. We just want to make more than them at the end of the game. That’s what it’s going to take.”

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.