Why Radim Simek's return can help spark Sharks' defensive turnaround


Why Radim Simek's return can help spark Sharks' defensive turnaround

SAN JOSE -- Right now, the Sharks need any kind of help they can get. Defenseman Radim Simek's return is a step in that direction.

Simek practiced with the Sharks on Monday, shortly after San Jose announced the end of his conditioning assignment with the Barracuda in the AHL. Coach Peter DeBoer said Simek could play Tuesday against the Chicago Blackhawks, and Simek almost certainly will play at some point on San Jose's current homestand.

One player won't change the entire complexion of the Sharks overnight, as we already saw this season when Patrick Marleau returned to San Jose. With the right kinds of corresponding alterations, however, Simek's return to the Sharks' lineup could be a key part of turning their season around.

That's not to understate Simek's importance. The Sharks did, after all, go 29-9-3 last season with the Czech blueliner in their lineup. Plus, it's encouraging that Simek made an immediate impact in his conditioning stint, setting up two goals and posting a plus-2 in a pair of AHL games.

Keep in mind, it still might take Simek a while to reacclimate to the NHL's speed. Heck, he could still feel some residual pain coming back from tearing ligaments in his left knee in March. 

But Simek's return gives the Sharks the means to rearrange some things on their blue line, and a possible spark they are in desperate need of.

Of course, the next question is where Simek will play. The Sharks tried a few different defensive pairings Monday, so it isn't set in stone that Simek will play on Brent Burns' left side again -- although it does look plausible.

This also means that someone currently playing is going to get scratched. DeBoer pretty consistently rolls out lefty-righty defensive pairs, there is a possibility that he plays four left-handed defensemen when Simek returns. Rookie lefty Mario Ferraro has been one of the Sharks' few bright spots, while right-handed defenseman Tim Heed played fewer than 10 minutes in six out of 11 games so far this season, including a season-low 3:21 on Oct. 24 against the Montreal Canadiens.

[RELATED: Sharks need to find swagger, now must 'look in the mirror]

However Simek is integrated back into the blue line, the Sharks need to play the way they did Friday night against the Winnipeg Jets. San Jose allowed a late game-winning goal, but smothered Winnipeg defensively and only allowed 19 shots on goal. The Sharks had hoped to play a similar style the following night, only to allow five goals to the Vancouver Canucks.

With four more games left on the current homestand, the Sharks need to rediscover their defensive prowess if they're going to start winning games again. While there's no guarantee it will be enough, Simek's return should help.  

Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau react to ex-teammates on Sharks' staff


Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau react to ex-teammates on Sharks' staff

SAN JOSE -- No, the days of the player-coach hybrid aren't making a comeback. Although, if you're Joe Thornton or Patrick Marleau, it might feel that way.

With the introduction of Bob Boughner as San Jose's interim head coach, the organization brought in staff that includes former Sharks Mike Ricci and Evgeni Nabokov -- two players who were on the roster back when the now 40-year-olds hadn't reached their veteran status yet.

"It will be interesting to see them on the bench," Marleau said. "But they're very professional and they'll do a great job."

Marleau played with both Ricci and Nabokov in the early 2000s, while Thornton only logged time with Nabokov after coming to San Jose from the Boston Bruins in 2005. While it has been some time since either newly-appointed assistant coach has rocked a teal sweater, Ricci and Nabokov have stayed with the organization in different capacities over the last few years. Having that closeness and a high level of familiarity is something that can benefit the team as they go through a midseason coaching change.

"I know what they've been through and I know a lot about them, so it's easy to communicate with them," Marleau said.

Thornton agreed with his teammate's assessment.

"They've been here for a long time now," Thornton said. "To have them on the bench now is going to be fun."

Both Ricci and Nabokov have spent the last several seasons working on the development side of the Sharks' organization and have worked closely with players on the AHL Barracuda -- a team that has been coached by Roy Sommer up until he, too, was recently named assistant coach under Boughner. In his introductory press conference on Thursday, Boughner outlined how he believes his new coaching staff might function.

"We met last night as a staff and this morning and we still need to work through some things," Boughner admitted. "But Mike Ricci and Roy are going to be on the bench with me. Roy's going to move to the defensive side and run some power play. Ricci was a great penalty killer his whole career and I think we're going to be able to enjoy some of his expertise. I'll be running the forwards and obviously Nabby will (oversee) the goalies. There are still some job responsibilities we'll have to sort out in the next few days. But for now, I think those guys are excited. It was a big day for them as well."

[RELATED: How DeBoer's firing shocked Sharks players]

As far as reuniting Ricci and Nabokov with their former teammates, Boughner thinks working closely with Thornton and Marleau will benefit the entire roster as the Sharks try to, yet again, turn their season around after a tough stretch of losses.

"I think you can see, even in the morning, there's that report there," Boughner said of watching the reunion during morning skate. "There's deep respect. There's a lot of familiarity with those guys and I think that's going to help. Ricci and Roy have seen these young guys all the way up. I think there's great chemistry that we're going to have there."

Sharks fail to correct bad habits in first game after coaching change


Sharks fail to correct bad habits in first game after coaching change

SAN JOSE -- Thursday could have been a fresh start for the Sharks. As shocking and emotional as it was to go through a midseason coaching change, they were presented with the opportunity to turn things around.

Unfortunately, Thursday's game against the Rangers featured a lot of the same problems. Missed opportunities, loose late-game play and yet another notch in the loss column.

Sure, getting accustomed to a new coach's ways can take some time. But that doesn't give the Sharks a pass when it comes to playing a full 60-minute hockey game.

"It's tough, it's difficult, but there's no excuse," captain Logan Couture said after the 6-3 loss. "Lots of teams have [gone through a coaching change]. A lot of teams in this league have done it and they've gone on winning streaks. The team that did it last year won the Cup. So, we've got to find a way. Tonight wasn't good enough once again."

San Jose did, in fact, have a great chance to get back into the win column in Bob Boughner's first game behind the bench. Even with New York continuing to grind away, the Sharks were able to take a 3-2 lead at the 4:12 mark of the third period thanks to a big goal from Brenden Dillon.

But then the defense took its foot off of the gas and Martin Jones couldn't stop Mike Zibanejad or Artemi Panarin from pushing the Rangers over the hump. In a matter of minutes, the Sharks went from defending a lead to being in a hole they didn't have time to dig out of.

"When you have a lead in the third with 15 minutes left, you have to defend a little bit harder and not turn the puck over like we did," Couture continued. "Play harder in our own end, which we did not. Defend our slot harder tonight, and I don't think we did."

Dillon agreed. "Frustrating when you have a lead like that. Especially at home, we have to be able to close it out. If we give up the tying goal, and then a couple more, it's just frustrating."

Letting up late isn't the only thing that is plaguing the Sharks right now. San Jose has struggled to play a full 60-minute game for the bulk of the season thus far. Thursday's loss showed yet again that San Jose isn't playing full games on a nightly basis -- regardless of who is behind the bench.

"I think we did some good things tonight, but obviously it still wasn't a full 60," interim head coach Bob Boughner observed. "I think in the third period we ran out of gas there a little bit."

[RELATED: Boughner confident in staff, wants Sharks to play inspired]

Martin Jones, who surrendered three goals in the third period, agreed. "Have to play a full 60 minutes, you have to," he said, acknowledging that having an adjustment period with a new coaching staff isn't an excuse. "They had more jump in the third period than us. We've got to find a way in a tied hockey game to come out with a little bit more energy. I don't know how many shots or scoring chances we had in the third, but we need to apply more pressure in a close hockey game like that."

Whether it's applying more pressure or tightening up, the Sharks clearly still have a laundry list of things they need to clean up. Now with the dust settling in regards to the coaching change, San Jose has no other option but to dig deep and keep working.

"There's a lot of work to be done," Boughner reminded everyone. "We'll have a good practice day tomorrow. Sort some things out."