Sharks

Sharks' Hertl makes major changes after blood test results

hertl-tomas-sharks-kings.jpg

Sharks' Hertl makes major changes after blood test results

SAN JOSE – After every road game, it’s standard practice around the league to have a row of pizzas laid out somewhere in the visitors dressing room for immediate nourishment (Sharks fans already know that defenseman Brent Burns fully partakes in the meal).

One player who may now be skipping that pizza is third year forward Tomas Hertl. Looking to have a rebound year after a difficult sophomore campaign, Hertl has made some significant changes to his diet, revealing recently that he has cut out a number of foods per doctor’s orders following the results of a blood test.

Hertl said he eats “almost dairy free and almost gluten free,” cutting out things like wheat, milk, cheese and eggs – the latter of which was his go-to pregame meal that may have been causing him trouble. Now almond milk, ham and salads are a few of his dietary staples.

So far, the changes have helped. The 21-year-old has lost much his remaining baby fat while adding more muscle.

“I feel better, and my stomach is all the time good,” Hertl said.

Although he’s actually put on a few pounds – Hertl said he’s checking in at 216, as opposed to the 210 he was listed at last season – he does look slimmer and fitter. That’s important, as one of Hertl’s main problems last season was a lack of strength on his skates. Far too often, he was forced to pick himself up from the frozen playing surface.

[KURZ: Seven players to watch during Sharks' exhibition season]

It’s a drastic difference compared to this time last year, when Hertl wasn’t able to train properly over the summer due to lingering issues from his surgically repaired right knee. Former coach Todd McLellan indicated more than once that Hertl’s conditioning wasn’t where it needed to be.

“I hope I am more ready this season than last time because I am working really hard, and changed some things this summer,” Hertl said.

“It should help be me strong on the puck, no falling anymore. We’ll see.”

Fortunately for Hertl, he’s had some help on his nutritious journey. Teammate Ben Smith is passionate about eating well, and has been passing along his vast knowledge to his teammate.

It’s even included some trips together to Whole Foods, where Smith apparently is teaching Hertl what to look for on labels.

“He’s open to it, I think he’s taking it a lot more seriously, that side of the game, his body – and he looks great,” Smith said. “Any way I can help and pass some stuff that I’ve learned along the way that’s helped get my body into shape and ready for games and the season, I’m always willing to help.

“He asks a lot of questions. We’ve had fun going there together.”

Smith couldn’t help but take a good-natured jab at Hertl.

“The one thing I have to say is that every time we go, someone recognizes him and he plays it off like it’s not a big deal, but he secretly loves it,” Smith said with a laugh.

Hertl is at a crossroads. He dominated out of the gate in his rookie year of 2013, scoring 15 goals in his first 32 career games. There was reason to believe that he would become the team’s next superstar, as well as a marketing staff’s dream with his affable attitude and ever-present grin.

Then came Dustin Brown, and last season, with just 13 goals and 31 points from Hertl in 82 games, including several lengthy dry spells. The list of disappointments as the Sharks’ 10-year playoff run concluded was a long one, and Hertl’s performance was near the top of it.

Is he ready now to be a part of the team’s resurgence? Joe Pavelski, who has skated with Hertl in training camp, is encouraged.

“He seems to be moving a lot better so far compared to last year,” Pavelski said. “His first year he moved really good and played [well], last year he took a little step backwards whether it was injury or training, all that stuff. It’s good to see him take control of those types of things and give himself a good opportunity.”

Why Sharks think they're turning things around after win over Oilers

Why Sharks think they're turning things around after win over Oilers

SAN JOSE -- Suffice to say, the Sharks don't look like the same team that started a six-game homestand on Nov. 1 with one of the worst records in the NHL.

With a 6-3 win over the Pacific Division-leading Edmonton Oilers on Tuesday night, the Sharks have won four in a row and appear to be climbing out of the hole they dug themselves in the first month of the season.

Not to jump the gun or anything, The Sharks aren't out of the woods yet. But after the past six games, it looks like they're finally turning the corner and playing the way they expect to.

"Every game, I feel like we're more comfortable," said Tomas Hertl, who scored a goal Tuesday. "Everybody plays better. So now we have to just keep going."

The Sharks spent a good chunk of the first month of the season looking out of sync -- offensively, defensively, you name it. The culprit? Focusing too much on individual play and not working together as a unit.

"We weren't playing our system," Marc-Edouard Vlasic summarized Tuesday. "We were freelancing. We were doing our own thing. And it's funny when you stick to it, to what you do best, the results follow."

Erik Karlsson, Vlasic's defensive partner, agreed.

"We lost ourselves a little bit," said Karlsson, who had three assists Tuesday. "But right now we're working hard for each other and getting ourselves in good spots out there."

Sticking to that system yielded positive production on Tuesday against the Oilers. The Sharks scored six goals, and largely contained Oilers superstars Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid. 

"We had a big task in stopping one of the best lines in hockey and I think we did a good job of that," Karlsson said. "I think everyone contributed offensively and defensively. I think we played the right way for 60 minutes even though they scored three goals. But I think we stuck with it."

"They're at the top of the division and I thought we did a good job of defending McDavid and Draisaitl as a group tonight," Sharks coach Peter DeBoer added. "I thought we had some individuals who did a really good job, but I thought everyone on the ice with those guys was aware."

Of course, getting the jump on the Oilers fewer than five minutes into the game didn't hurt, either. 

"We got the first goal, which took a little bit of the pressure off," DeBoer said. "We got to play out in front most of the night. Those kinds of things make a difference."

[RELATED: Sharks' Baker shares mental health journey in HEADSTRONG]

Now, as Hertl mentioned, the Sharks have to keep going. With an 8-10-1 record, San Jose is still under .500.

That's not good enough for a team accustomed to playing in the postseason. 

"If you're under (.500) you're not in the playoffs," Hertl said. "We're trying the best and over the last four games, we actually look like the Sharks."

If they keep looking like the Sharks that Hertl is talking about, the outlook on the season gets a little brighter.

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in 6-3 win over Pacific-best Oilers

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in 6-3 win over Pacific-best Oilers

BOX SCORE

SAN JOSE -- If there was a high note for the Sharks to end their six-game homestand on, they hit it against the Edmonton Oilers on Tuesday.

The Sharks offensively overpowered the Pacific Division-leading Oilers at SAP Center. Logan Couture and Erik Karlsson had multi-point nights and Barclay Goodrow registered a Gordie Howe hat trick as San Jose skated to a 6-3 victory. 

Here are three takeaways from the Sharks' fourth-straight win.

Coming alive 5-on-5

As fans are probably all too aware, the Sharks had a ton of trouble scoring goals at even strength at the start of the homestand. But as they have improved over this six-game span, their 5-on-5 game has come alive. San Jose scored five even-strength goals in the first 40 minutes Tuesday, the team's most impressive 5-on-5 performance of the season. 

To make things better, the Sharks got scoring from their bottom six in Tuesday's game courtesy of third-liner Patrick Marleau's first-period goal. If San Jose can start getting production from the fourth line as well, the Sharks' offense will be in really good shape going forward.


Playing more than 20 minutes

The Sharks went into the first intermission with a 3-0 lead but had a feisty Oilers' team pushing to get on the board. And as the Sharks learned from their back-and-forth 6-5 win over the Minnesota Wild last week, only playing well for the first 20 minutes isn't a good formula for winning games. 

But the Sharks didn't sit back on their heels, instead scoring another goal 1:26 into the second period and then another before the intermission. Even though the Oilers scored three goals in the last two periods, San Jose had enough of a lead to keep the damage minimal.

Not too shabby for a team with one of the league's worst goal differentials at the start of the homestand.

[RELATED: Sharks' Baker shares mental health journey in HEADSTRONG]

The Sharks' best game to date?

Let's not get too far ahead of ourselves. The Sharks have certainly played much better over the last four games, but there are still a couple of areas they need to tighten up as they try to climb their way to a .500 record.

Although the Sharks built a big enough cushion, they did let up a bit Tuesday and allow two goals in the third period to let the Oilers make things interesting. As we discussed earlier, that's exactly how the Sharks almost gave up last week's game to the Wild.

While San Jose goaltender Martin Jones did a pretty solid job against Edmonton's offense, the defense in front of him needs to stay tight late into games so they don't end up blowing any late leads.