After a dismal first month of their 2019-20 season, the Sharks look like they are rounding into competitive form after a six-game homestand.
The Sharks started November with back-to-back home losses against the Winnipeg Jets and the Vancouver Canucks. But following the return of Radim Simek and a sudden offensive explosion at even strength, San Jose has rebounded, winning four straight. As they begin to establish their identity, the Sharks also have started climbing their way out of the Pacific Division cellar.
Naturally, fans have a lot to talk about when it comes to what San Jose is doing in their pursuit of getting to .500 and eventually into the top tier of their division. Here are three questions fans posed before the Sharks face the Ducks in Anaheim on Thursday night.
Simek. Why do the Sharks look so different with him in the lineup and is he the secret MVP of the team?— Drew Cormier (@DrewCormier) November 13, 2019
How are the bottom lineup players (Gregor, Prout, Radil, etc.) faring? They’re not putting up points but are they effective roles players?
This one seemed to be a favorite among fans on social media, so we'll tackle both questions.
First up, Simek's return. To summarize, the reason the Sharks are much better with Simek in the lineup is that they don't have any other players in their arsenal that can do all of the things that he can. If San Jose had another defenseman in the organization that could play with the same level of physicality and on-ice awareness all while pairing perfectly with Brent Burns, Simek's absence probably wouldn't seem like such a big deal.
Tim Heed doesn't check off all of those boxes, and while Mario Ferraro has had a promising rookie campaign so far, he isn't quite on Simek's level. That's what makes Simek such an important part of this lineup.
As we've discussed in previous stories, the defense as a whole plays better with Simek in it because his presence allows coach Pete DeBoer to play his whole defense more evenly. When Burns and Erik Karlsson aren't playing around 25 minutes a night and responsibilities are more evenly distributed throughout the blue line, everyone plays a better game.
In regards to the "bottom lineup" players being role players, the Sharks still are trying to figure some of that out. DeBoer specifically mentioned Dylan Gambrell as a player who has earned himself a regular starting job and said that rookie Noah Gregor is on the right path to earning a regular job -- although Gregor is going to be replaced by Lukas Radil for Thursday's game in Anaheim.
The long and short of it here is that there still are regular jobs to be had. With San Jose's top players playing better, the fourth-line group needs to follow suit.
For the first time since last season, DeBoer has some options with regards to who starts on the blue line. Not only are players finally healthy -- Ferraro is close to returning from injury and Dalton Prout has concluded his rehab stint with the Barracuda -- but Heed has played two solid games in their absence.
From the look of things ahead of Thursday's game against the Ducks, DeBoer is going to take a look at all of his options here. Prout is set to pencil into the lineup over Heed, although that doesn't guarantee he stays there. How well Prout plays could have an impact on whether rookie Ferraro gets back into the lineup, although it's possible DeBoer will just put him back in there anyways given how well he's played through the first part of the season.
So the jury's still out on this one. We'll just have to wait and see who locks down the job.
The thing that puzzles and worries me still is if Sharks can win games turning them at 2nd or 3rd period regularly. I'm afraid that they're going to try too hard to get early leads and end up gassed for the rest of the game.— Uniklub (@Pyrts3) November 14, 2019
For San Jose, it isn't about playing one period better than the other. The Sharks need to start off games firing on all cylinders because they play better when they get the early lead. What needs to happen is that they need to continue carrying that effort throughout the entire evening.
We've talked a lot over the last homestand about the Sharks being able to put a 60-minute effort on the ice night in and night out. The win over Nashville showcased their best 60-minute effort of the night, despite the fact they didn't score too many goals. The key is sticking to their defensive game and not getting too comfortable with getting a lead.
There might still be nights where they take their foot off of the gas in the second or third period. But as San Jose wins more games and becomes more confident as a group, that 60-minute effort should become a more regular facet of their game.