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.
Sharks are mixing up their defense pairs. Simek and Vlasic have been taking turns playing with Burns. Dillon and Vlasic taking turns playing with Karlsson.— Curtis Pashelka (@CurtisPashelka) November 4, 2019
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.
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.