Three takeaways: Hertl returns to Sharks lineup

Three takeaways: Hertl returns to Sharks lineup

SAN JOSE – The Sharks went into the All-Star break with a 4-1 loss to Edmonton on Thursday, but they have to be pleased with where they are in the standings. There are some things to fix, but the club is in great position to defend its Western Conference championship when the unofficial second half begins next Tuesday against Chicago.

In the meantime, here are three takeaways from the Oilers game…

1 – Hertl’s return

Tomas Hertl’s stat line doesn’t exactly leap off the page, as the 23-year-old didn’t register a shot on goal in 17 minutes and 22 seconds of ice time. Still, just getting him back in the lineup for a game before the break is a positive development. He also gave the top line some life, particularly in the first period.

“First period was probably our strongest as far as chances and having [the puck],” Joe Pavelski said. “It’s not easy coming back from an injury like that. I thought he gave us good minutes. Had the puck and was looking confident out there with it. It’s something definitely to build on.”

Hertl said admitted that his “lungs [were] burning, and his legs,” and thought he could have been stronger around the net. Overall, he called his game “not bad, but I’m sad because we lost tonight.”

Pete DeBoer said on Thursday morning that long-term goal is to get Hertl back in the middle, but I wonder if he stays on that top line for a few games longer. If there are two players that look like they really need a jolt, it’s Pavelski (one goal in his last 10 games) and Joe Thornton (five points in his last 13 games). Maybe reuniting that previously effective trio can help get them all going again. 

2 – New power play units coming?

Not to harp on the power play woes, which we got into with last night's recap, but the units that DeBoer and Steve Spott put out there for that long four-minute advantage were unique, to say the least. 

To start the advantage, it was the second line (Logan Couture, Mikkel Boedker and Patrick Marleau) with Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic on the points. Later, it was the Thornton-Pavelski-Hertl line, with David Schlemko and Paul Martin. The Sharks managed four shots over those four minutes, looking better than they did in their first two power plays.

“We had a couple looks out there. It was a few tips, a few shots,” Pavelski said. “It doesn’t matter who’s out there, we’re pretty confident in each other.”

Burns gave the Oilers penalty killers some credit.

“They have a good kill, pressure hard,” he said. “The difference is so small every night. Tonight was no different. You’ve got to combat that with good communication and quick plays. It’s not easy. You can always be better and work on things, but that’s hockey. If it’s easy, everybody would do it, huh?”

The guess here is that DeBoer reverts back to his familiar top unit on Tuesday, but if Thursday’s game was any indication, his patience is wearing thin – as it should be.

3 – Oilers a legitimate challenger

It’s probably safe to say at this point that the Oilers are primed to make the playoffs, and there’s a very good chance that they play the Sharks in the first round. Edmonton, like San Jose, has an 11-point cushion over fourth place Calgary.

“Obviously they’re young with a lot of speed and skill,” Patrick Marleau said. “I think they’ve added some pieces in the offseason, a little bit more grit on the wings, back end got a little bit better. They’re hanging in there, and they’re right up there.”

Pavelski said: “They’ve had a really good season. I don’t think we’ve thought otherwise. We knew it was going to be a tough game, but we didn’t take it lightly.”

The anatomy of Jannik Hansen's recently-broken scoring drought


The anatomy of Jannik Hansen's recently-broken scoring drought

Jannik Hansen's game-winning goal against the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday marked the first time he scored in 355 days. 

Hansen last scored on Mar. 30, 2017 against the Edmonton Oilers, his second goal with the Sharks following an in-season trade. His scoring drought, in all, lasted 44 regular season games, 50 if you include the postseason. 

How exactly does a goal-scoring drought last nearly a year? The right (wrong?) circumstances all need to come together, and that was certainly the case for Hansen for much of the last year.

For one, the Danish forward was in and out of the lineup. San Jose played 83 regular season and postseason games between Hansen's second and third goals, and he did not play in 33 of those games. Plenty of players have had rough 50-game stretches, and that's often without not playing for weeks at a time, as Hansen has done a couple of times this season. 

When Hansen did draw into the lineup this year, however, he wasn't generating offense at the same rate he had in the past. This season, Hansen's five-on-five shot rate (6.19 shots per 60 minutes), shot attempt rate (10.53 individual corsi per 60), and unblocked shot attempt rate (8.95 individual fenwick per 60) were all down from his career averages, according to Corsica Hockey. 

That decline is natural, considering Hansen turned 32 just six days ago. Those rates were not down enough, however, to expect him to fail to score in his first 39 appearances this season. Naturally, a long run of bad luck played a big role in Hansen's dry spell.

Hansen went 0-for-66 in shots over the 50 consecutive regular season and playoff games in which he did not score. He's a career 11-percent shooter, and had he shot at his career average, he would have scored seven goals during that time. That feels about right for a bottom-six forward. 

In many ways, all of these factors fed into one another. Hansen wasn't generating shots or scoring, then was scratched, then couldn't find the back of the net when he returned and was scratched again. All the while, fellow fourth-liners Marcus Sorensen (26.7 percent shooting percentage this season), Joel Ward (14.3 percent) and Barclay Goodrow (13.2 percent) were converting on their chances, forcing Peter DeBoer's hand. 

His possession play's been solid all season (50.74 percent corsi-for, per Natural Stat Trick), but the offense hasn't followed. When it does, as was the case Tuesday night, he can be an effective fourth-line forward, and the goal on Tuesday bought him more time to prove it. 

Sharks blow out Devils for season-high fifth straight win

Sharks blow out Devils for season-high fifth straight win


SAN JOSE -- Jannik Hansen scored his first goal of the season and fellow fourth-liners Eric Fehr and Barclay Goodrow also scored to help the San Jose Sharks win their season-high fifth straight game, 6-2 over the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday night.

Logan Couture added his 30th goal of the season, and Joe Pavelski and Mikkel Boedker also scored to give the Sharks a four-point lead over third-place Los Angeles in the Pacific Division with one game in hand.

Brent Burns added three assists and Martin Jones made 26 saves.

The scoring barrage by San Jose spoiled Cory Schneider's return to net for the Devils. Schneider allowed four goals on 14 shots before getting pulled midway through the second period of his first start since March 8. Schneider has lost 11 starts in a row since his last win for the Devils on Dec. 27.

Taylor Hall scored his 32nd goal of the season and Blake Coleman also scored for the Devils, who lead Florida by just one point in the race for the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference. The Panthers have two games in hand.

After Hansen and Fehr scored in the first period, Goodrow chipped one in midway through the second period on a surprising night of scoring from the fourth line when he beat Schneider on a 2-on-1.

Couture then scored 40 seconds later on San Jose's first shot against Keith Kinkaid for his third career 30-goal season. Boedker added San Jose's second power-play goal of the night late in the second and the rout was on.

The Sharks got off to a fast start in their first game back from a 3-0 Canadian road trip, scoring three goals in the first period and killing 1:20 of a two-man advantage for New Jersey.

The teams traded goals to start with Fehr beating Schneider over the shoulder from a bad angle and Hall answering when he stole a bouncing puck from Justin Braunand beat Jones with a quick shot.

San Jose then scored twice in a span of less than three minutes to take the lead. Pavelski tipped in a shot from Kevin Labanc on the power play to give the Sharks the lead.

Then after Jones denied Damon Severson from in close at one end, Dylan DeMelo sent a long pass that Hansen chased down and then beat Schneider on a breakaway for his first goal since March 30, 2017.

NOTES: DeMelo has 10 assists this month. ... San Jose D Brenden Dillon has a five-game point streak. ... Devils F Miles Wood (upper body) was scratched and Jesper Bratt played in his place.


Devils: Visit Pittsburgh on Friday.

Sharks: Host Vegas on Thursday.