Hertl activated, will play for Sharks against Oilers

Hertl activated, will play for Sharks against Oilers

SAN JOSE – Sharks forward Tomas Hertl has been activated from injured reserve, and is will play in Thursday night’s Sharks-Oilers game at SAP Center.

Hertl, 23, has been out since sustaining a right knee sprain during a game with the Blues on Nov. 17. He underwent what the team called a “minor procedure” on Nov. 22.

“It was a long time and a lot of skating, but finally [a] game,” said Hertl, who has nine points (4g, 5a) in 17 games. “For sure, I’m excited. It will be hard, but I can’t wait to play again tonight in a home game.”

Hertl has had at least three procedures on his right knee, including a PCL and MCL repair following his collision with Dustin Brown on Dec. 19, 2013. His most recent surgery was designed to prevent further injuries to the knee, after a seemingly innocent run-in with St. Louis’ Jori Lehtera was the latest to knock him from the lineup.

But the Czech native indicated he doesn’t have time to worry about any future injuries if he’s going to play his game.

“During the game I don’t have time [to think about it]. I want to just play. … After many times what happened, I’m glad I’m fine for this and I believe my head will be fine,” he said. “My game is heavy, be strong, I can’t be waiting [for] somebody [to] hit me. If puck is there I need to just go, because it’s my game – take the puck, play hard. I don’t have time [to think about] my knee.”

Hertl has missed the past 32 games, and DeBoer compared his absence to when Logan Couture was hurt for most of the first half last season while battling numerous injuries. The difference this time is that the Sharks have played well without Hertl, posting a 22-8-2 mark while he’s been out, after struggling to remain at .500 when Couture couldn't play.

“Last year, we didn’t handle that as well as we’ve handled this,” Pete DeBoer said. “I think that speaks to our depth. We’ve had young guys come in and find a way to get us through losing a real good player for [32] games.”

San Jose will put its six-game winning streak on the line against the equally hot Oilers, who are 6-0-1 in their last seven.

What does Hertl want to accomplish against Edmonton?

“Just to play the game I played before, because I feel great,” he said. “I want to for sure win because [the guys have won] six in a row. … Just be strong on the puck, don’t be nervous. For sure [it may take] a couple shifts [to get up to] speed.

“But, hopefully I can hunt [Connor] McDavid all over [the] ice tonight (laughs). That’s about it. … I want to just win tonight, that’s the goal.”

It’s unclear whether Hertl will play on the left wing of the top line or he’ll immediately return to the third line center role, where he was at the time of his injury.

“That is a thought [playing him at left wing], but you also see the value in having a center ice of [Joe] Thornton, Couture, Hertl [and Chris] Tierney,” DeBoer said. “You see the depth, and the real good teams have that type of depth up the middle. That’s what we’re weighing out. 

“Regardless of where he ends up tonight, I think long term we want him in the middle.”

* * *

The Sharks reassigned rookie forwards Kevin Labanc and Timo Meier to the AHL on Wednesday, but they did not play against the Stockton Heat. They were both recalled on Thursday.

Barclay Goodrow was reassigned to the Barracuda, while defenseman Tim Heed was recalled.

Jones set for big workload down the stretch


Jones set for big workload down the stretch

Sharks goaltender Martin Jones is on pace for the lightest overall workload of his career as a starter. After starting 65 games in his first two seasons in San Jose, Jones can only play a maximum of 62 if he appears in each of the team's 12 remaining games. 

Yet simultaneously, he is also on pace for the largest stretch-run workload of his career. Jones will make his 10th straight start, and 51st overall, Friday night in Calgary. 

Friday will also mark his eighth consecutive start since the trade deadline. Over the last two seasons, Jones made 13 and 14 starts, respectively, from the deadline onwards. 

It's easy to envision Jones far surpassing that workload. Entering Mar. 16 each of the last two years, the Sharks held, respectively, 10-point and 18-point leads over the West's ninth-place team, the closest among the squads on the outside looking in at the postseason. As a result, James Reimer and Aaron Dell spelled Jones for eight and seven starts, respectively, to keep him rested ahead of the postseason. 

This year, San Jose's only three points clear of the ninth-place Anaheim Ducks. There's also only one back-to-back remaining on the post-deadline schedule, compared to five in 2016-17 and two in 2015-16, and 10 of the next 12 games are against teams within four points of a playoff spot. 

Taking all of that into consideration, Jones should pretty easily exceed the mark of 14 post-trade deadline starts he set last season and ultimately start more than 60 games for the third consecutive season, barring injury. 

Should the Sharks clinch a playoff spot, it will be fair to wonder what kind of effect Jones' stretch-run starts will have on his postseason performance. Jones posted a .923 save percentage in San Jose's run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2016, and a .935 save percentage in the first round last year after receiving a good amount of time off. 

But the Sharks have to get there first, and it's understandable they will rely on Jones in order to do so. The recently-extended Aaron Dell remains one of the league's better backups, but has come a bit back down to earth this season (.914 save percentage) after earning the role last year (.931). 

Jones, for his part, has handled the increased workload well so far, winning five of nine games and posting a .922 save percentage. How well handles his 10th consecutive start, and any that follow, will have a profound impact on the Sharks' hopes of making the playoffs. 

Potential Donskoi injury the latest in Sharks season full of significant hurdles

Potential Donskoi injury the latest in Sharks season full of significant hurdles

Wednesday night’s overtime win over the Edmonton Oilers mirrored the arc of the Sharks’ season. At the risk of sounding like a beloved corporate cousin, it had everything. 

It was a game that, much like this season, required San Jose to overcome increasingly difficult hurdles. The Sharks fell behind early, then again, then again, only to overcome each successive deficit and win the game in overtime. 

Mix in a failed challenge, timely goaltending, special teams success, a scene-stealing performance from a member of the team’s young core (Tomas Hertl), and you have a winning recipe featuring recurrent ingredients from the season to-date. Of course, that winning recipe has the added potential of a sour aftertaste, as the Sharks saw yet another top-six forward leave the game with a familiar injury. 

This time, it was Joonas Donskoi, who left the game with just under seven minutes remaining in the third period nursing his left shoulder. Donskoi, who suffered two separated shoulders last season, did not return to the game, and head coach Peter DeBoer did not offer an update on his status postgame. 

The timing of Donskoi’s injury is far from ideal for San Jose. Not only is the Finnish forward on pace for his highest-scoring NHL season, but the Sharks are far more productive with him on the ice than when he’s not. 

When Donskoi’s not on the rink, the Sharks attempt 49.15 percent of the five-on-five shots, compared to 55.15 percent when he is on the rink, according to Natural Stat Trick. That relative difference (6.36 percent) is the league’s 17th-best mark among skaters, and is essentially the gap between the Boston Bruins (third in five-on-five corsi-for percentage) and New York Islanders’ (27th) respective puck possession prowess. 

Plus, the Sharks score an additional 0.82 five-on-five goals per 60 minutes when Donskoi’s on the ice this season, which is the best mark on the team behind Evander Kane. In all, San Jose’s just 4-2-2 with Donskoi out of the lineup this season, and 17-11-7 over the last three. 

To make matters worse, the Sharks are just three points clear of missing the postseason entirely with 12 games remaining, and Joe Thornton has yet to return to the ice after injuring his right MCL in late January. San Jose’s had enough depth to mitigate Thornton’s injury, especially following the acquisition of Kane, but can it handle another key injury?

They will not need to answer that question if Donskoi doesn’t miss significant time, and the Sharks have overcome most of the hurdles in their way this season. But if he does, or isn’t himself when he comes back, the Sharks undoubtedly will have another one to clear.