Radim Simek

Five Sharks players who have exceeded expectations despite down season

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AP

Five Sharks players who have exceeded expectations despite down season

This Sharks' season has been difficult to comprehend, predict and digest.

There’s no denying the gap between expectations and reality, which is the blatant storyline of the campaign thus far for the team and most of its players.

Having said that, there’s also a group of select individuals, somewhat flying under the radar, who have met or exceeded expectations in the first 42 games:

Barclay Goodrow 

Goodrow already has matched his career-high 17 points from last season, and still shows plenty of tangible upside for a player cementing his spot in the NHL. Goodrow has played wing and center this season, up and down the lineup. That versatility -- from the same forward who played 60 NHL games in 2014-15, but was relegated to the minors most of the next two seasons -- is valuable.  

There’s no question where he belongs now, on pace to play in all 82 games for the second season in a row.

Mario Ferraro

Ferraro has become an every-game player for the Sharks in his rookie campaign. It was supposed to be a first-half where multiple young players like Ferraro were given significant roles and made great strides. 

However, only the defenseman wearing No. 38 has emerged to become a regular in the lineup. While there are rare examples of learning-on-the-job moments, they are far overshadowed by Ferraro’s raw ability, potential and prowess without the puck.   

Aaron Dell

Dell has given the Sharks options most teams don’t have. In October and November, it was the ability to provide Martin Jones some rest without lessening San Jose's chances at victory. Here in December and January with fresh slates of a new coaching staff, Dell has surged and possibly launched himself into the starting role. 

There’s no question the goalie situation has escalated into a healthy competition, of which Dell currently holds the upper hand.

[RELATED: Here's how Hertl still can get into the NHL All-Star Game]

Radim Šimek 

Šimek has been hindered at times by a knee injury suffered last season, but there’s no denying his impact when participating, when the Sharks are 13-5-2. That’s 13 of their 18 wins, and he hasn’t even played half the team’s games. 

It doesn’t make sense that any single player could yield that kind of difference, but the sample size and effect speak for themselves. With responsible tendencies and a distinct physical element to his game, Simek just seems to be that piece that helps the rest of the blue line’s puzzle fit.

Brenden Dillon

Dillon's name can get lost in the star power of San Jose’s defensive corps, but make no mistake, it’s his predictability and flexibility that have often helped the Sharks figure out the pairings that work best. 

“Dilly” widely is known as one of the nicest and most liked teammates in the dressing room, yet is also routinely the first to drop the gloves when situations require on the ice. He also is the team leader in hits each of the last four seasons.

Sharks' Radim Simek to miss about two weeks for minor knee procedure

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USATSI

Sharks' Radim Simek to miss about two weeks for minor knee procedure

The Sharks have dealt with their fair share of knee issues over the last few seasons, and they're going to have to work through another one over the next few weeks.

Defenseman Radim Simek will miss about two weeks as he needs to undergo a procedure on his surgically repaired right knee, Sharks general manager Doug Wilson told reporters in Tampa on Sunday before San Jose's game against the Lightning. 

Simek tore his ACL and MCL in March, and had surgery soon after. He initially was projected to rejoin the team at the start of the season, but Simek didn't return to game action until Nov. 5. In 16 games this season, Simek has scored four points (one goal, three assists) and posted a minus-12.

[RELATED: Sharks lament 'poor, poor effort' late in loss to Lightning]

Despite those pedestrian numbers, Simek's presence in the Sharks lineup makes a big difference. San Jose is 4-10-1 when Simek has not played this season and 11-4-1 with him in the lineup.

Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said Tim Heed would play in Simek's place Sunday. Although Heed has played well in his last couple of games, it's still possible Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson will play more and share Simek's responsibilities, much like they did at the start of the season when Simek initially was out.

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.

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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.