Radim Simek

Sharks fans pose three questions after successful six-game homestand

burnssimekkarlssonusatsi.jpg
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. 

With blue line recovering, Sharks look to end homestand on high note

heedusatsi.jpg
USATSI

With blue line recovering, Sharks look to end homestand on high note

SAN JOSE -- The Sharks might be dealing with some bumps and bruises on their blue line. But after playing a good game last weekend against the Predators, head coach Peter DeBoer isn't too worried about penciling another defenseman into the lineup.

Tim Heed will file back into the lineup on Tuesday night against the Edmonton Oilers with Mario Ferraro and Dalton Prout not quite ready to return to game action. Heed has been in the dog house after a slow start to the season, getting glued to the bench for long stretches of games. But after playing what DeBoer called his "best game of the season" last Saturday against Nashville, having to put No. 72 back out there doesn't seem as daunting.

"Those decisions become easy when you play like that," DeBoer said.

The Swedish defenseman clocked 13:25 minutes of ice time on Saturday -- a stark contrast to how little he played in games over the Sharks' road trip at the end of October. Heed also tallied three shots-on-goal and a hit while not allowing any goals against the Sharks. DeBoer explained that, like other players who have underperformed, it's up to Heed to play better if he wants to stay in good standing.

"Coaches don't make those decisions, players make those decisions on whether they're going to play again or how quickly they're going to get back in there again," the head coach said.

It also helps that San Jose's blue line has found its groove since Radim Simek came back into the lineup last week, in part due to the fact that he eats up more minutes and takes some of the pressure off of heavy hitters Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson. If Heed plays another solid game right out of the gate on Tuesday, that gives DeBoer even more room to space out responsibilities among his d-corps. 

It doesn't hurt either that San Jose's skaters are individually getting their game together. So even with Ferraro getting injured, the Sharks' defensive pairs haven't looked completely out of sync.

"For me, it's been about guys individually finding their own games," DeBoer continued. "I think that's what you're seeing."

As far as Ferraro is concerned, DeBoer said the rookie is "really close" to a return and is considered day-to-day. Prout will play one more game for the Barracuda as he rounds out his AHL conditioning stint. 

[RELATED: Win-streak captures Sharks' old form]

Regardless of who is in the lineup, San Jose is looking to end their six-game homestand on a high note with the Edmonton Oilers playing a visit on Tuesday night. After a dismal first month of the season, DeBoer said he's finally seeing some positive patterns in his team's game., even if their record is still below .500.

"At least I'm seeing some consistency to our style of play and our identity, and that's stretching now probably to the beginning of the homestand," DeBoer said. "That's a good thing. I know our record doesn't show it like you wish it would, but I think that's coming. There are some good signs there."

How Sharks' Radim Simek made his presence felt in win vs. Blackhawks

How Sharks' Radim Simek made his presence felt in win vs. Blackhawks

When Radim Simek was sidelined last March with a torn ACL and MCL, the Sharks insisted that they would be able to maintain their status as a dominant team in the defenseman's absence.

But in his return to game action Tuesday night, nearly eight months later, it immediately became clear what a considerable impact the young blueliner has when he's in San Jose's lineup.

"He makes a big difference," head coach Peter DeBoer told reporters after Team Teal's 4-2 win over the visiting Chicago Blackhawks. "When he was in our lineup last year we were a different team."

The Sharks' defense played a big role in Tuesday's win, keeping Chicago out of their zone and limiting their chances. San Jose played heavier and harder in Simek's return, as he tallied four blocks and tied for the team lead with five hits. His first-period hit on rookie center Kirby Dach not only epitomized the grit that San Jose's blue line has been missing, but showed that his physical play is already where it needs to be.

Simek clocked 20:37 minutes of ice time in his first game back, just 20 fewer seconds than Erik Karlsson. Karlsson and Brent Burns have been logging heavy minutes since the start of the season due to multiple injuries and replacements proving unable to pick up the slack. With a healthy Simek back in the mix, the two Norris Trophy winners now can play more manageable minutes.

"It allows us the luxury of not having to overplay guys," DeBoer said. "Their minutes are more where they need to be, which allows us to hop over the board with energy and defend harder. So it was nice to have [Simek] back."

That improved energy on the blue line was evident throughout the game, as the Sharks' retooled defensive pairs controlled a good portion of the contest. Simek looked right at home reunited with Burns, while Karlsson and Marc-Edouard Vlasic recreated some of the chemistry they established playing together last season. Even the Sharks' new all-lefty combo of Brenden Dillon and Mario Ferraro had a good night and set up a short-handed goal in the process.

Now, of course, the Sharks need to harness that energy and play with that same kind of heaviness on a nightly basis.

[RELATED: Report: Sharks' Kane sued by Las Vegas casino for $500K]

While Tuesday's win helped snap a five-game losing streak, San Jose's journey isn't going to get any easier. The Sharks' homestand continues this week against a Minnesota Wild team coming off a win over the Ducks, and against a Nashville Predators squad that is sure to test San Jose's physicality. If the Sharks want to turn one win into the start of a streak, their defense is going to have to keep rolling.

With Radim Simek back in the mix, they have a better chance of doing that.