Mario Ferraro

Sharks must avoid letdown vs. Red Wings to keep winning streak alive

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USATSI

Sharks must avoid letdown vs. Red Wings to keep winning streak alive

SAN JOSE - Sharks fans can breathe a sigh of relief now that head coach Peter DeBoer has confirmed that Tomas Hertl and Mario Ferraro are back in the lineup for Saturday's matchup against the Detroit Red Wings.

But just merely having these two pieces in the lineup doesn't mean the Sharks can sit back and take this game lightly. 

San Jose has strung five consecutive wins together, the most recent coming on Thursday night against a tough division rival in the Anaheim Ducks. The key now is to not get comfortable -- especially with the team still trying to climb their way up the standings.

"We talked to our group this morning," head coach Peter DeBoer told the media Saturday morning. "Human nature, (after) you've won five in a row and a big road win against a division rival is to kind of take a deep breath. And we can't fall into that trap."

Sure, San Jose has gotten points in five straight games and has defeated tough Western Conference competition in the Predators, Oilers, and Ducks. However, they're still sitting at just 19 points in the standings, second-to-last in the division and nine points behind the Pacific-leading Edmonton squad. Even with those five straight victories, San Jose still has an uphill climb ahead of them.

The trap becomes even bigger with the Red Wings in town. They might be at the bottom of their division, but that isn't likely to stop them from making the Sharks pay for their mistakes, no matter how small they are.

"This team always plays us hard, always tough," DeBoer said. "They're a speed team, which always gives us trouble. Their first line has been firing on all cylinders. So we've got to make sure we're prepared for this game."

The visiting Red Wings are 4-4-2 in their last 10 contests, having a three-game winning streak snapped by the Kings in LA on Thursday night. Over that span, they've been outscored 38-25 and have gone 7-for-31 on the power play.

While those numbers would seem to indicate that San Jose won't have too much trouble containing Detroit's offense, the top line consisting of Anthony Mantha, Tyler Bertuzzi, and Dylan Larkin has combined for 12 points against the Sharks over their careers.

Not to mention that the Sharks haven't always fared well against the Red Wings in the past, going 34-50-4-6 through 94 regular-season meetings and splitting last season's series 1-1-0.

[RELATED: What we learned as Sharks' win streak reaches five games]

The biggest key for the Sharks on Saturday night is going to be keeping the defense tight and the puck in enemy territory -- and preferably to not take their foot off the gas late in the game and allow Detroit to score any late goals.

This seemingly should be an easier task with Hertl and Ferraro healthy and in the lineup. But with the threat of a letdown looming after winning five straight games, San Jose has to be on top of their game no matter what. 

Sharks' Tomas Hertl day-to-day after suffering knee injury vs. Ducks

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AP

Sharks' Tomas Hertl day-to-day after suffering knee injury vs. Ducks

Any reference to a possible knee injury for Tomas Hertl should make all Sharks fans hold their breath, but it sounds like they can exhale.

After departing San Jose's 5-3 win over the Ducks on Thursday night in the third period following a collision with Anaheim forward Sam Steel, Hertl did not return to the game, and his status was not updated by the team afterward.

That changed Friday when Sharks coach Peter DeBoer told reporters that images of Hertl's right knee taken earlier that morning confirmed, "that it looks like it's minor and that's good news."

When asked Friday, Hertl said he is day-to-day and that he was going to see the team doctor in the afternoon to get treatment. The injury comes at a particularly unfortunate time, as Hertl is in the midst of a career-best five-game goal-scoring streak, which perfectly coincides with San Jose's five-game winning streak.

"I was coming back and the guy was falling, for sure my knee, and fell on it," Hertl described to The Mercury News' Curtis Pashelka. "I’ve got some history, so we just take it back and just check. That’s why they take me out and I couldn’t even finish the game. We’ll see. For now, it’s just day-to-day. But nothing serious and hopefully be OK for game."

The history to which Hertl referred to is the reason for the aforementioned breath-holding. In Dec. 2013, he required surgery to repair damage to the MCL and PCL in the same right knee. He re-injured it again in Game 2 of the 2016 Stanley Cup Final and sprained it the following November and missed 33 games.

"Before it was always way worse, but sometimes even the small things you can make worse," Hertl said. "But this time, hopefully, (it’s) just a little tweak or something and it will be alright."

[RELATED: What we learned as Sharks' win streak reaches five games]

The Sharks go for their sixth straight win when they host Red Wings on Saturday night, and it remains to be seen if Hertl will be in the lineup to face Detroit. San Jose could elect to place Hertl on injured reserve to free up a roster spot if needed, but that would mean he would be ineligible to play for at least a week. As Pashelka notes, another option would be to place rookie defenseman Mario Ferraro -- who hasn't played since Nov. 7 -- on retroactive IR.

Sharks fans pose three questions after successful six-game homestand

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USATSI

Sharks fans pose three questions after successful six-game homestand

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.

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.

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.

[RELATED: Why Sharks believe they're turning corner after another win]

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.