Sharks in denial and in a hole after another loss

SAN JOSE – This is Sharks Territory. That’s what the signs tell us.

That’s what these playoffs tell us. Down here in San Jose, life and hockey would be so much better if there weren’t any postseason. Which, if the Sharks don’t begin to get some results, there won’t be in a short while.

Remember the way the Warriors stunned the Dallas Mavericks in the first round of the NBA playoffs a couple of years ago? What’s happened to the Sharks is the reverse. They have become the stunees.

Ask them,’’ San Jose coach Todd McLellan said of his group, “and I think they’ll tell you they’re the better team. It’s not like we’ve been spanked.’’

No, but they’ve been beaten. Twice. At home in front of sellout crowds whose anticipation turned to dismay, whose shouts turned into boos.

The Sharks finally scored Sunday night. After 85 minutes and 35 seconds of not scoring. This time they were beaten by the Anaheim Ducks, 3-2, which aesthetically may be more acceptable than losing 2-0, as happened Thursday night.

San Jose had the best regular-season record in the NHL. And at the moment a tie for the worst current postseason record. It’s a recurring nightmare for the Sharks, who lure everyone into thinking this may be the year and then go out and trip over their own intentions.

The Sharks are 0-for-12 on the power play, equally dividing their failings with six each game. Twelve different times they’ve had a man advantage, and 12 different times they’ve been unable to score. You don’t have to have been born in Canada to understand that’s not very good.

They’re beating us to the puck,’’ said the Sharks captain, Patty Marleau. The result is that Anaheim, known for physical play rather than success, has a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven Western Conference quarterfinals.

And so San Jose players are firing clichés faster and harder than apparently they have the puck.

“Again,’’ said San Jose’s Joe Thornton, “I thought we controlled the game.’’

If he means hitting the puck, indeed. San Jose had 44 shots on goal, compared to 26 for Anaheim. If he means getting the puck past the goalie, absolutely not. You can persuade yourself that you’re doing a great job, but in sports the only thing that matters is who wins.

And in two games, the Sharks haven’t won any.

They shook up their lines. They were more aggressive. The first game the Sharks’ Jeremy Roenick described as a chess match.

This one was a hockey match, with plenty of banging and shoving. It was great theater. But it wasn’t satisfying for the 17,496 fans whose noise level ebbed in the final minutes. Except for the boos.

“Sometimes,’’ said Randy Carlyle, the Ducks coach, “it is more important to prevent a goal than score a goal in these tight games.’’ That’s the quintessential philosophy in the four major team sports. Defense beats offense. Keep the other guy from getting goals, baskets, runs or touchdowns.

The Giants won a couple of games over the weekend from the Arizona Diamondbacks because in those games the D-backs were shutout. In these games, the Sharks were shut down.

“The penalty kill is what they do,’’ said McLellen of Anaheim. “It’s very effective. We got to find a way to score, and that’s our biggest concern.’’

Anaheim’s young Swiss goalie, Jonas Hiller, has been brilliant. He stopped all 35 Sharks shots on Thursday night and 42 of the 44 Sunday night.

“There’s no magic to all this,’’ said the Sharks veteran Claude Lemieux. “You just have to get the puck into the net.’’

They understand the problem. Now they must go about correcting it.


EXCLUSIVE: Lincecum is back. Giants already are far back

SAN FRANCISCO – The curious contradiction of the Giants was never more in evidence than on a Saturday in April. The reassurance of Tim Lincecum’s beautiful pitching, now that he once again is healthy, was countered by the unnerving reality of another San Francisco defeat.

Tim Lincecum is back. All the way. He tied a career high with 13 strikeouts. He didn’t allow a run in eight innings against the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Giants also are back, in another definition of the word.

They are far back, 5 ½ games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers, and the second week of the season is not yet completed.

It’s axiomatic if the other team doesn’t score you can’t lose. Conversely, if your team doesn’t score you can’t win.

The Giants, with the Diamondbacks taking advantage of Lincecum’s departure and some incessantly depressing relief pitching, got a couple in the ninth and beat San Francisco, 2-0.

Ballplayers are quick to remind us not to dwell on one game. This one game, however, seemingly was indicative of the future. One game, in which the Giants acknowledged strength, pitching, proved ineffective because of the Giants acknowledged weakness, a lack of hitting.

In both the first and third innings the Giants couldn’t get a runner home from third with one out, not that for some inexplicable reason in the first Emmanuel Burriss didn’t try by ridiculously attempting to steal home only to be thrown out by 20 feet.

Of the four Giants infielders who started Saturday’s game -- including first baseman Travis Ishikawa (.172), shortstop Edgar Renteria (.189) and third baseman Pablo Sandoval (.195) -- only Burriss, the second baseman (.220), is hitting above the dreaded Mendoza Line of .200.

San Francisco now has lost seven of eight. It is not a reach to suggest the Giants may be out of contention by May. Starting Friday evening, the Giants shut out the Diamondbacks for 17 consecutive innings and lost one of two games.

“You’ve got to execute,’’ said Bruce Bochy, the Giants manager. Or to turn that around a bit, we steal from the late Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach John McKay who, after yet another defeat, was asked about his team’s execution and replied, “I think it would be a very good idea.’’

But what if the Giants are executing as well as they can? There’s no Albert Pujols or Manny Ramirez in the lineup. There’s no punch. There’s no pizazz. Every game is like walking atop slippery rocks through a stream, a lot of deep breaths and invariably a misstep.

It doesn’t get any better than Lincecum, the ’08 Cy Young Award winner, after being weakened by what was called lingering bronchitis. He was brilliant. It doesn’t get any worse than not being able to get a run and posting a team batting average of .239 for the season.

“He is so big for this ball club,’’ said Bochy. “That is no question. It is going to make us a better club having him healthy. With that being said, we have got to get some runs on the board. We are sputtering offensively. We had our opportunities the first three innings, and we couldn’t get a big hit.

“This is not a case where there is no hope.’’

One wonders. The Giants haven’t had a winning season since 2004. They are in a supposed process of rebuilding, advising that the organization’s minor league teams all are strong. Who cares? These are the major leagues.

A few weeks ago, the media was brought to AT&T Park to be told of the team’s environmental awareness. One garlic fries concession stand recycles its cooking oil. “We’re conscious of being very green,’’ said team president Larry Baer.

The rest of us are conscious of the ball club. It’s also quite green. Also not very good and offering no indication it will improve without large changes of the roster, and that is not going to happen.

“Sandoval is not going to hit what he’s hitting,’’ was Bochy’s contention. “Ishikawa... There are a lot of guys in the league that haven’t gotten going yet.’’

Too many of them are on the Giants, a team that needed to begin well both for its own confidence and in this year of the recession to keep the fans coming to games.

The hole in which the Giants can be located grows deeper. The forecast for the season grows all the more depressing.

“It’s tough for the team to take a loss like that,’’ said Lincecum of what transpired, “after a game like that. I was throwing strikes, and good ones.’’

And the Giants still couldn’t win.

Hello Fans of Art Spander, and sports fans in general!


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RealClearSports: John Madden: Great Announcer, Better Man

By Art Spander

He was the voice, whose love both of his sport and his work was open and infectious. John Madden didn't just make us understand football, he made us understand ourselves.

The NFL and its television broadcasts will go on because institutions inevitably outlast the people who bring them to popularity and prominence.

Yet, cliché as the phrase may be, things never will be the same.

Madden truly was the guy on the next chair in the restaurant, or the next stool in the bar, the guy who had to get into the conversation. Then, unpretentiously, unlike so many others because he knew what he was talking about, John simply took over.

Or to borrow a Madden observation, "Boom!''

At age 73, John on Thursday announced he was retiring from the broadcast booth, a property he seemingly had held in perpetuity for four different networks, the last being NBC on Sunday nights. It was there he and Al Michaels kept us informed and entertained.

Now as Kipling would have said, like all captains and kings, John Madden departs, with his class, to our sorrow. We're not only losing a football mind, we're losing a friend.

His family had something to do with the decision. He'll be married to the wonderful Virginia 50 years in December, and they have two sons and six grandchildren, whom, from August to January, were virtual strangers to John.

The two Northern California teams, the Oakland Raiders, which Madden coached to a Super Bowl win more than 30 years ago, and the San Francisco 49ers, also had something to do with the retirement. They have slipped so far from their championship years they're not considered worthy of Sunday night TV. Madden thus never was able to get back to his Bay Area home during the NFL season.


"I'm not tired of anything," said Madden, "but I'm going away."

So, this fall, for the first time since he was a freshman at Jefferson High in Daly City, the working class community dead south of San Francisco, John Madden will not be involved in football.

"What made it hard," he said during his morning radio spot on San Francisco's KCBS, "is I enjoyed everything so much. I always felt I was the luckiest guy in the world."

John Madden was everyman, with a sharper intellect. He liked to make us believe that on his cross-country bus journeys he only ate at places named "Joes," or slept in his clothes.

He is a closet intellectual who always made you feel good. Even when he was berating you, as he did now and then when he was Raiders coach and I was covering the team for the San Francisco Chronicle.

Some sporting leaders, coaches, managers, general managers, insist they never read the papers. Madden wasn't at all that disingenuous.

He'd come jogging and yelling across the Raiders old practice field in Alameda, waving the sports page and telling me in a few unsavory phrases I didn't have a clue what was going on. Then, when the workout ended, he would give me a clue and an explanation. Boom.

A few years back I was driving from Oakland to San Francisco, sitting in the line of traffic waiting to pass through the toll booths on the east end of the Bay Bridge. A horn sounded. And sounded again. Three lanes to my right, it was Madden, honking and waving - his arm, not a sports story he didn't appreciate.

John's pal from the time they were kids has been John Robinson, who went on to a successful coaching career himself, leading USC to Rose Bowl wins. "We were just a couple of doofuses from Daly City," Madden reminded of the pairing.

Part of their ritual among the group with which they ran was buying ice cream cones. "Another kid would yell 'First dibs,'" said Madden, "and he got to lick your cone. So we all would immediately lick our own cones to keep anyone else from getting some of yours. John Robinson would still eat my cone after I licked it."

Along the way, Madden has licked the world. He coached. He became a TV analyst. He did commercials for seemingly every product from Lite Beer - "Tastes great; less filling." - to Ace Hardware. He has a weekend home on the Monterey Peninsula. He owns huge hunks of the Diablo Valley beyond the hills east of Oakland. He was voted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He has an eponymous EA video game.

And arguably, he's the biggest star ever connected to the NFL.

"There's nothing wrong with me," Madden said about leaving, repelling in advance any stories that he has a medical problem. "I'm not tired of traveling. It's just this is the right time, the right thing."

We'll miss you, John.

As a reporter since 1960, Art Spander is a living treasure of sports history. A recipient of the Dick McCann Memorial Award -- given for his long and distinguished career covering professional football -- he has earned himself a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. And he has recently been honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the PGA of America for 2009.

© RealClearSports 2009


SF Examiner: Spander: The Three Cys letting Giants down in early part of season

Read original article at

By Art Spander
Special to The Examiner 4/15/09

SAN FRANCISCO – That should do it for the Giants, a team meeting. Why, of course. Bruce Bochy and the boys sitting around the clubhouse and telling each other they’re not as bad as they’ve been playing and exchanging ideas.

Someone might suggest to Randy Johnson while an 11 is acceptable at the craps table, it’s not what you want in an earned-run average.

It’s a good thing the Giants have Johnson and two other Cy Young winners on the staff, otherwise they might be in trouble with that lineup. One run Sunday, one run Monday. The pitchers are grinding their molars.

You are familiar with the Three Amigos and the Three Tenors. The Giants are offering the Three Cys. Or is that the Three Sighs? Johnson, an oldie but we believed a goodie, Barry Zito and the latest in line, Tim Lincecum, who earned the award in 2008.

So far in 2009, Lincecum is 0-1 with a 7.56 ERA, Zito 0-1 with a 9.00 ERA and Johnson 0-2 with that 11.42 ERA. In other words: Help!

Lincecum is the biggest worry. Johnson is in his 40s (age not ERA), and Barry, one of the good guys, has not been one of the good pitchers for the last several years. But Lincecum is only 24, in his third major-league season and, we’re told, headed for greatness.

The fear is there may be a few detours, such as expectations and the dreaded Cy Young jinx. (What, you don’t know about it?) So much was written and said about Tim, he was on the cover of Sports Illustrated, the cover of the Giants’ media guide. He may not be taking it all to heart, but rather trying to prove he is deserving of such attention.

“Something’s not clicking, and I’m going to figure it out,” was Lincecum’s forthright assessment. “You worry about things going on, especially in the present.”

For good reason. The Giants were winners only twice in their first seven games. While that was the same as the Boston Red Sox (and their zillion-dollar payroll), Milwaukee Brewers and Arizona Diamondbacks, it’s hardly encouraging.

San Francisco has finished with losing records four straight years as it wobbled through the departure of Barry Bonds and other travails. The hope in ’09 was for at least a winning record. The dream was for a place in the playoffs, but let’s not be ridiculous.

It’s a long season. Baseball cliché No. 1: It’s early. Baseball cliché No. 2: But once you get into a hole, unless you’re the Yankees or Cardinals, invariably you stay there. The Giants need virtually a week of wins to get even, and they’ve only played a bit more than a week of games.

The premise among the baseball mavens was the Dodgers, the hated Dodgers, had the bats, but the Giants had the arms, and that pitching inevitably will triumph over hitting. Oh? Is that why L.A. was an 11-1 winner over Frisco on Monday?

Any moment now, Giants GM Brian Sabean will be telling us it’s no time to panic. Hey, Brian, we’ll be the judges of that.

Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on and E-mail him at

Copyright © 2009, SF Newspaper Company