The Rundown: 49ers Get Off the Schneid; Joel Ward Comes Up Huge for Surging San Jose Sharks

In this week’s installment of The Rundown, we’re left to wonder when San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo will trade in his ball cap for a helmet and how the San Jose Sharks are developing into a top-tier team in the NHL’s Western Conference.

SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

Make no mistake: the only thing San Francisco accomplished with its 31-21 win Sunday over the New York Giants was making sure the franchise avoids the dubious distinction of joining the 2008 Detroit Lions as the only teams to go 0-16 in NFL history. Now the 49ers can focus on more important things, like finding out if Jimmy Garoppolo is their franchise quarterback.

Since the 49ers are on a bye week, speculation has run rampant that the fourth-year QB would play in two weeks against the Seattle Seahawks. It only makes sense to start Garoppolo sooner than later, in part to give both sides a strong sample size to see whether this will be a marriage going forward.

Remember, Garoppolo is a pending free agent, and if the 49ers are going to commit more than $20 million a year—the number it will take to either franchise tag Garoppolo or sign him to multi-year deal—they’ll need to see as much as possible before making that costly decision.

Despite coach Kyle Shanahan’s repeated denial that there is no plan in place to start or play Garoppolo, one could wager the fourth-year quarterback will be under center soon. Shanahan basically revealed as much in the aftermath of the trade, per Sports Illustrated: “I know that we have a guy that we're excited about, and I know he has the ability to help us and help the team in the future.”

It’s time to find out.

SAN JOSE SHARKS

The surging Sharks picked up back-to-back wins over Vancouver and Los Angeles over the weekend, the latter one of their most impressive performances of the season. Trailing 1-0 with five minutes gone in the third period, San Jose got the equalizer at the 15:42 mark on a Melker Karlsson goal before fourth-line wing Joel Ward scored the game-winner off of his skate at the 12:50 mark.

The Sharks (10-6-0, 20 points) have now won six of their last seven games and sit in third place in the Pacific Divisions standings. And this is despite ranking 30th in the NHL in five-on-five goals (24).

So how are the Sharks getting it done? With hard-nosed, physical play that relies on grinding at both ends of the ice.

San Jose ranks first in goals-against average (2.25), and it’s received strong play from its fourth line, particularly from Ward and center Barclay Goodrow. Going forward, it’s going to be interesting to see how the team handles future Hall of Fame center Joe Thornton.

Coach Pete DeBoer acknowledged that Thornton isn’t 100 percent healthy, a reflection of his decreasing ice time in the last two games. It might behoove the Sharks to shut down Thornton for a period of time to get him at or near full health for later in the season?

SAN JOSE BARRACUDA

After getting demoted to the Barracuda on Nov. 5, Kevin LaBanc was recalled by the Sharks on Sunday. Labanc had one goal, three assists and produced 11 shots in two games with the Barracuda. Labanc started the season with the big club, tallying two goals and three assists in the first five games of the season.

However, Labanc was dropped from the top line a couple of weeks later. The Sharks selected Labanc in the sixth round of the 2014 Draft, and he’s shown flashes of brilliance mixed in with inconsistent play. Perhaps the brief demotion was a wakeup call to get Labanc going again.

The Barracuda continued to receive strong play from Danny O’Regan and Marcus Sorenson, as the duo combined for two goals and an assist in a 4-1 win over Manitoba on Sunday. San Jose plays the first of two games against the Ontario Reign on Saturday at the SAP Center.

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