Thursday, June 24, 2010

Giants' Linceum looking more like his freakish self in latest start

Earlier this month, it looked as if the Giants’ Tim Lincecum might need a new nickname. The Freak’s fastball was hovering around a very un-freakish 90 mph. Almost everyone in the big leagues – freaks and non-freaks alike -- can hit 90 on the radar gun.

Some wondered if Lincecum had a dead arm or if sadly, at just 26, the two-time NL Cy Young award winner had lost the sizzling fastball that, combined with his small stature – just 5-foot-11 and 170-pounds with his pockets filled with rocks -- made him so unusual.

But when Lincecum took the mound Tuesday at Houston, he started pumping 94 mph fastballs, one after the other, at the Astros in the early innings. He even hit 95 on the radar gun.

Giants fans can breathe a bit easier. Lincecum’s latest start showed that his loss of velocity likely has more to do with mechanics than arm issues. He still has work to do on that mechanical front, but in the early going Tuesday, Lincecum got into a groove, and his fastball had some of its old electricity. If he could do that one day, he can certainly do it again.

I loved the fact that catcher Bengie Molina kept calling for a heavy dose of fastballs. Too often this year, Molina and Lincecum have fallen too deeply in love with his change-up and curveball. Granted, they’re great pitches, and they’ve helped him rack up many of his best-in-baseball 113 strikeouts, but it’s Lincecum’s fastball that sets the tone and sets the stage for his off-speed pitches.

When it comes to the fastball, it’s a matter of use it or lose it. Lincecum’s far too young to become overly reliant on off-speed pitches. He’s got to keep pumping fastballs and get back to being The Freak. Tuesday’s start was a great sign.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Warriors' Cohan putting finishing touches on his tarnished legacy as team owner

Warriors owner Chris Cohan put the for-sale sign up months ago. Apparently, he’s having a fire sale before he turns the team over to a yet-to-be-determined new owner.

On Monday, the Warriors traded down 10 spots in the second round with Portland – swapping the 34th overall pick for the 44th – and pocketed $2 million in the deal.

Then on Wednesday they shipped small forward Corey Maggette and that second-round pick to Milwaukee for guard Charlie Bell and center Dan Gadzuric.

That was a great deal – for the Bucks.

Maggette averaged 19.8 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2.5 assists last season. For his career, his numbers are 16.6, 5.1 and 2.2.

Bell’s career numbers? Try 8.9 points per game, 2.4 assists and 2.2 rebounds. Gadzuric has averaged 4.9 points and 4.5 rebounds.

Then there’s the fact that Maggette was the Warriors’ only legitimate small forward. Of course Cohan could care less. He’s got one foot out the door and faces bigger problems from the IRS, which is after more of his money.

Warriors fans can only hope Cohan doesn’t order GM Larry Riley to trade Monta Ellis for two re-treads and a vault-full of cash before he sells the team.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Pac-10's plans thankfully go up in smoke

The Pac-10’s plans to mega-expand to 16 teams imploded this week, and I’d say that’s cause for celebration.

It’s been sickening to watch the Pac-10 join what’s become an insane pursuit by conferences throughout the nation of television money at the expense of tradition and geographical reality.

Nothing says “Pacific” like Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.

Thankfully, those teams turned down the Pac-10’s invitation, most likely because they figured they could make more money if they stuck together and saved the Big 12. There are few if any saints in this ongoing story.

The Pac-10 has already added Colorado, and there’s apparently a good chance it will add Utah. That would give them 12 teams, the minimum required to break into two divisions and hold a Pac-10 football championship game. And yes, that’s another decision driven by the pursuit of TV dollars. But at what cost?

The Pac-10’s oh-so-fair round-robin football format is dead. That format produced truly legitimate champions because every team played every other team each season. Now, some teams will have easier schedules than others and, most likely, one division will turn out to be easier than the other – which is one of the problems Big-12 football has faced.

You have to wonder when this mad scramble will end. Are conferences going to continually raid each other, year after year, and continually re-align?

Who knows? Maybe one day Florida, Florida State, Miami, South Carolina, North Carolina and Duke will be part of the Pac-24 Southeast.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Sharks start fast but forget how to finish in overtime loss to Florida

On second thought, maybe those frustratingly slow starts and amazingly fast finishes the Sharks had been producing weren’t so bad after all.

After setting an NHL record by winning three straight games in regulation after trailing entering the third period, the Sharks flipped the script Saturday afternoon against the Florida Panthers at HP Pavilion.

This time the Sharks jumped to a 2-0 lead in the first period and lost 3-2 in overtime. Sharks coach Todd McLellan loved his team’s fast start but hated the continued inconsistency heading into a six-game road trip.

“We accomplished a couple things tonight,” McLellan said. “We came out and had a little fire in our belly. Played extremely hard in the first period but let it get away from us. That’s the inconsistency in our game right now. Obviously they heard the message for the start, now we reversed the trend. We didn’t finish real well.”

In their 8-5 win Thursday night over Nashville, the Sharks scored six goals in the third period. Before that, they came from behind to beat Columbus 2-1 and Montreal 3-2.

McLellan said one of his main goals for the upcoming road trip is for the Sharks to play consistently well from start to finish.

“There’s a lot of good things in our game right now, but the one thing we haven’t put forth maybe since the Olympic break is a solid 60-minute effort,” he said. “We’ve been 40, we’ve been 30, we’ve been even to the point where we’re probably 55, but a solid 60 …”

The Sharks appeared to grab the game by the throat in the first 20 minutes Saturday, taking a 2-0 lead.

In the first five minutes, the Sharks outshot the Panthers 4-0. Then with 14:28 still left in the first period, Ryane Clowe beat Florida goalie Tomas Vokoun, putting the Sharks up 1-0.

Patrick Marleau set the scoring play in motion when he won a faceoff in the right circle. Clowe chased down the puck along the boards, skated low then reversed course and glided to the point where he whipped a shot past Vokoun.

The Sharks made it 2-0 with 2:15 left in the first period when Marleau hammered home a one-timer on the power play.

Marleau, stationed low on the right circle, took a pass from Joe Pavelski and ripped a sharp-angled shot at, oh, 100 mph or so, past Vokoun, who didn’t have a chance. The goal was Marleau’s 41st of the season, yet another new single-season high.

Marleau’s one of three Sharks with at least 40 goals in a season, joining Jonathan Cheechoo and Owen Nolan. He’s third on the all-time list, three behind Nolan, who had 44 goals in 1999-2000, and 15 behind Cheechoo, who scored 56 in 2005-2006.

Just when you thought the Sharks might be headed for a rout, they went dead on offense.

“Coming out strong was good,” Marleau said. “You want to continue that. You don’t’ want to sit back because teams can sense that and they come right back at you.

“I think we had quite a few opportunities to score some goals. We didn’t finish. We tried to make probably too cute of plays instead of sticking with what works and what’s simple – getting pucks to the net and banging the rebounds. We did have chances.”

Florida sliced their lead to 2-1 with just 1:02 gone in the second period. The Panthers’ Keith Ballard took a cross-ice pass in the right circle and beat Thomas Greiss on the glove side. Greiss, making a rare start in place of Evgeni Nabokov, had been planted on the opposite side of the crease and couldn’t reposition himself quickly enough, leaving a huge opening for Ballard.

Greiss made his first start for the Sharks since Feb. 10, a 3-0 loss to Columbus. It’s not as if he hadn’t been on the ice since then -- Greiss started for Germany in the Vancouver Olympics, going 0-3-0 – but he struggled Saturday.

“It was pretty tough for me to get into the game,” Greiss said. “I never really felt good until the end of the game. A tough game for me.”

Florida tied the game 2-2 when Shawn Matthias banged a rebound past Greiss at 5:01 of the third period. Then with 2:14 left in overtime, after the Panthers won a faceoff in the Sharks’ end, defenseman Bryan Allen ripped a shot from the left slot past a screened Greiss for the game-winner.

The Sharks have to be wondering what might have been if they hadn’t lost center Manny Malhotra for 17 minutes of the third period. After Florida’s Jason Garrison hit Pavelski from behind, ramming him into the boards, Malhotra retaliated with his fists. Malhotra got hit with two minutes for instigating, five for fighting and 10 for misconduct. Morrison got two for boarding and five for fighting.

“It hurts,” McLellan said of losing Malhotra for so long. “Manny’s a valuable player. He plays in all situations. We talked about this before a lot. What happens when somebody takes a liberty? In this case, Manny stuck up for his teammate. We don’t mind that one bit. We’re happy that he does that, but in turn it also keeps him out of the game for 17 minutes, and 17 important minutes.”

Now, if this had been a playoff game, McLellan would have wanted Malhotra to show more restraint.

“In a playoff game, probably the best response we could have is win the game 3-2 or 4-2 and move on,” he said. “In this situation, we’re happy he responded the way he did.”

In truth, Florida is a team the Sharks should have dominated from start to finish. San Jose came into the game with 95 points, best in the Western Conference. The Panthers had 64 and were eight points out of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, all but dead. They suffered a 3-0 loss Thursday night to Colorado in Denver, the second stop in a three-game West Coast road swing.

Entering the game, Florida had one player with more than 17 goals – center Stephen Weiss with 23 – and he took a puck off a foot Thursday night and wasn’t at full strength. The Sharks had three: Marleau, Dany Heatley (36) and Pavelski (20).

So much for statistics.

“I am disappointed,” McLellan said. “We should be a better team. We shouldn’t be giving up two-goal leads. Let’s make that clear. I’m not happy, but I also want to give the other team some credit. They came in. They used five defensive men basically the whole game.

“Their goaltender played extremely well, kept them in the game. When we watch the video and sit down and look at the mistakes we made, there weren’t a dramatic amount. We certainly were far better than we were against Nashville. It wasn’t even close.”

Well, maybe better everywhere but on the scoreboard.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Sharks get a scare and a win against Montreal

Quick hits from the Shark Tank after San Jose’s 3-2 victory Thursday night over Montreal.

*Sharks coach Todd McLellan loved watching his team’s gritty come-from-behind victory, but he hated seeing center Scott Nichol get shoved head-first into the boards early in the third period by Montreal’s Maxim Lapierre.

Let’s set the scene for what unfolded.

Torrey Mitchell whipped a pinpoint pass to a streaking Nichol on a break-away. Going full speed, Nichol fired a shot off the right post. As he zoomed past the net, Lapierre shoved Nichol from behind, giving him no chance to stop. Nichol went crashing into the boards.

Nichol got up off the ice holding his right should but still tried to confront Lapierre.
Surprisingly, Lapierre was not penalized for the play.

“I’m a Shark and I’m going to have an opinion on the call,” McLellan said. “I think it was a missed call. I think it was a real dangerous play. I wouldn’t want to see one of their players go in like that and I certainly don’t’ want to see one of ours.”

Nichol didn’t return to the game, and McLellan said he was waiting to receive a medical update.

“On the Scotty Nichol play, it’s a tough play,” Sharks defenseman Rob Blake said. “That’s the plays we don’t like to see just because it’s a very vulnerable position. It’s a tough call. The refs were up front about it.”

That play seemed to energize the Sharks. They trailed 2-1 at the time and outscored Montreal 2-0 the rest of the way.

*Playoff hockey in March? In some respects, it felt like it Thursday night. Both teams were grinding hard, and goals were hard to come by.

“I think that’s the way it’s going to be down the stretch,” McLellan said. “I’m glad we got to play in that game. You’re in the middle of it, and you’re down a goal, you’re wishing you could score. By the end of the night we stuck with the plan and won the game.

“Those are good games for us to play in. I didn’t see anybody going off on their own. They stuck with the program. I think what you’re asking me is was it frustrating to see the goaltender make as many good saves as he made. That’s what happens at this time of the year. You have to find a way to beat them.”

The game got chippy at times, and each team drew seven penalties.

*The Sharks came into Thursday night’s game on a two-game losing and scoreless streak. But according to Blake, their biggest concern wasn’t simply avoiding a three-game skid.

“We’re really more concerned with how we’re going to play,” he said. “Our record’s up there for a reason. We’re more concerned with style. These are games you’re going to see. We have 18 left and a lot of them are against teams fighting for the playoffs. So you’re going to see that style before you get in the playoffs.”

*Sharks goalie Evgeni Nabokov needed a strong game after what he’s been through this month, and he got one, stopping 28 of 30 shots and making some huge plays.

“He’s been great all year,” Sharks winger Dany Heatley said. “He keeps us in so many games. Tonight he was outstanding again, especially in the third period when he kept it 2-1 for a long time.”

Earlier in the month, Nabokov had a six-goal Russian Olympic nightmare against Team Canada. He gave up four goals in the first period and two more in the second before being yanked after facing just 23 shots. Then in his first post-Olympics NHL game, he gave up four goals Tuesday – three in the second period – in a 4-3 loss to New Jersey at the Shark Tank. In that loss, he faced only 21 shots.

Nabokov got off to another rough start Thursday, giving up a goal with 9:39 still left in the first period. Montreal’s Brian Gionta took a pass from Scott Gomez and, directly in front of the crease, blasted a long shot past Nabokov’s stick side.

Later in the period, Nabokov made up for his early lapse. In one rapid-fire sequence, he stopped Benoit Pouliot’s break-away shot from the right circle then blocked Gionta’s blast of the rebound with just over 7 minutes left. Moments later, Nabokov reached high for made a glove save while doing the splits.

Nabokov gave up a power-play goal to Scott Gomez at 2:06 of the second period. Later in the period he made a bad pass, right to the Canadiens’ Roman Hamrlik above the left circle. Hamrlik unleashed a laser, but Nabokov caught it. Threat – and potential embarrassment – over.

After giving up that second goal, Nabokov was a wall for the rest of the night, especially in the closing minutes when he made a handful of nice saves.

“They were coming,” Nabokov said of the Canadiens. “I was able to see the puck and I was able to make the saves.”

Nabokov also heard the chants of “Nah-bee! Nah-bee!” as he shut the door on Montreal.

“That’s nice to hear,” he said.

*The Sharks scored their first goal – short-handed, no less – just 53 seconds into the second period. That’s when Patrick Marleau, planted in front of the net, redirected Blake’s long slap shot from near the right boards for his 39th goal of the season.

That goal gave Marleau a new single-season career high with 18 games still left to play.

That 1-1 deadlock lasted all of 69 seconds before Montreal’s Gomez answered with a power-play goal.

For most the remainder of the second period, the Sharks and Canadiens spent their time drawing penalties and coming up empty.

The Shark’s Dan Boyle had the best scoring chance, but he was wide right by a fraction of an inch on a penalty shot, hitting the post. Boyle got his chance after Canadiens goalie Carey Price lost his stick and defenseman Hal Gill tossed it toward him while the Sharks were attacking.

There’s no throwing sticks in hockey.

*Heatley tied the game 2-2 with 7:28 with a power-play goal, re-directing Dan Boyle’s shot. Then with 4:55 to play, Manny Malhotra’s one-timer from the point off a Torrey Mitchell feed beat Carey Price and put the Sharks ahead 3-2.

“We had stressed all night getting on the ‘D,’ forcing them into turnovers, getting pucks to the point and getting shots” Malhotra said. “(Mitchell) had enough patience to find me. I don’t even think Price saw the puck.”

Thanks to a screen from a fellow Shark.