Sharks power through adversity, kick off stretch run with win over Coyotes

Sharks power through adversity, kick off stretch run with win over Coyotes

SAN JOSE -- The Sharks didn’t exactly travel along the easiest road en route to beating the Arizona Coyotes 3-2 in overtime Saturday night.

For starters, they were playing their first game after a long break -- a situation that sets up any team to be a little rusty. Then, they went up against a sturdy performance from Coyotes netminder Darcy Kuemper. To top it all off, the AHL Barracuda had played a matinee game just a couple of hours before, and the SAP Center ice wasn’t at its best.

“The game was difficult to play,” Sharks forward Logan Couture admitted. “Both teams coming off a long stretch without playing hockey. Throw in the ice because there was a game earlier today. By the end, I think both teams were exhausted, but it’s good to get the two points.”

Sure, Saturday’s game was looser than what San Jose wants to play at this point in the season. But the rust was shed midgame, and a strong second period helped set up a victory. That's definitely a positive sign for a team that wants to power through the last 30 games of the season and have a deep playoff run.

“It’s an entertaining game for fans because you’ve got breakaways and 2-on-1s and a lot of odd-man attacks that you normally don’t see this time of year,” Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer said, chuckling a bit. “I think as we get back and going, everything will tighten up again.”

Defenseman Justin Braun agreed: “Coming off the break, you’re trying to find your game. But I thought for both teams it was good effort overall. I thought the ice was a little choppy after the game this afternoon, but I think both teams did a good job out there.”

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Both teams, in fact, weren't polished before Conor Garland scored the game-opening goal for Arizona. San Jose had the better-looking chances of the two teams, but a turnover in the Sharks' zone allowed the opposition to get on the board. They, however, chose to not let the mounting adversity get to them.

“The bench didn’t get down,” Couture said. “We stayed positive. I thought we were playing really well, given the circumstances and found a way to win.”

That’s the type of mentality the Sharks need to maintain moving through the last 29 games of the regular season. San Jose is just four points out of first place in the Pacific Division, with some crucial matchups coming up on its schedule, including the division-leading Calgary Flames this upcoming week. But the Sharks aren't yet focused on the standings, according to Braun.

“You can’t look at what other teams are doing," he said. "You have to take care of your business every night."

DeBoer echoed that same sentiment when asked what the message was to the team going forward.

“We really want to play some really good hockey here down the last 30 games,” he said. “We think large pieces of our game are in a good place, but there are some areas we want to clean up a little bit. The whole key to playoff hockey is making sure you’re playing well this time of year on. That’s our focus.”

Surging Sharks can't afford to lose 'tremendous' Tomas Hertl to injury


Surging Sharks can't afford to lose 'tremendous' Tomas Hertl to injury

The Sharks' game on Thursday was, without a doubt, the Tomas Hertl show.

Hertl has been playing at a high level throughout San Jose's current winning streak and added to that successful stretch Thursday by leading San Jose's offense with two goals against the Ducks. But then Hertl left the game in the third period after colliding with Anaheim forward Sam Steel and appearing to injure his leg. Hertl never returned to the game and was not available for comment following the Sharks' 5-3 victory.

Even after the postgame media scrum, there was no update on Hertl's status. But it's no secret that the Sharks, who are finally digging themselves out of their early-season hole, can't afford to lose him from their forward attack.

"He's playing tremendous," Logan Couture told reporters at Honda Center after the game. "You hate to say you get used to it because he's playing at such an elite level. But the way he's been playing over the last two years, he's been at that level. And he's getting better."

The captain isn't mistaken. Hertl really came into his own last season after head coach Peter DeBoer moved him to the center position, taking on more responsibility and becoming an irreplaceable force in San Jose's offensive arsenal. Now, after a slow start to the season, the Czech forward has come alive once again with goals in five straight games and is currently leading his team with 21 points. His performance through the first two periods of Thursday's game perfectly showcased the mix of physicality, goal-scoring prowess and relentless drive that makes him a power forward to be reckoned with. Not to mention, he plays well with a number of players on his wing, and the current combination with Timo Meier and Barclay Goodrow has been one of the best lines -- if not the best -- the Sharks have put out on the ice since the start of November.

That's precisely why San Jose can't afford to lose him as the team climbs its way out of the Pacific Division basement.

An injured Hertl wouldn't just force DeBoer to shuffle up his lines, as he also plays an important role on San Jose's special teams, which have been one of the team's saving graces since the start of the season. There's no doubt that the Sharks would be missing a major puzzle piece if Hertl has to miss any games.

The Sharks have a packed schedule through the end of November with a mix of competition to face, from hosting the lowly Detroit Red Wings this upcoming Saturday to visiting the rival Vegas Golden Knights next Thursday. Given how San Jose's season began, there is no opponent on the horizon that the Sharks can look past.

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If the injury Hertl sustained Thursday causes him to miss time, San Jose's job becomes that much more difficult.

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in 5-3 win over division rival Ducks


Sharks takeaways: What we learned in 5-3 win over division rival Ducks


It wasn't the prettiest or most dominant game the Sharks have played this season. But heck, a win is a win.

San Jose spent a good chunk of Thursday's game trailing the Ducks on the scoreboard. But thanks to some late-game magic from the special teams, Team Teal was able to extend its winning streak to five games with a 5-3 victory over the SoCal rival.

Here are three takeaways from Thursday's game in Anaheim.

Stay strong, special teams

In all honesty, the Sharks didn't look like they had the upper hand for the majority of the game. But during a short span in the third period, San Jose completely took over the game thanks to a power-play goal from Brent Burns and a short-handed goal from Evander Kane within less than three minutes of each other.

San Jose's special teams have been one of the few bright spots through the slow start to the season. When facing an opposing goaltender that is on top of his game -- like John Gibson was for Anaheim on Thursday -- being able to score on both the man advantage and the penalty kill is huge.

Hertl power 

While three of the Sharks' four forward lines generated very little offense against the Ducks, Tomas Hertl and his linemates, Timo Meier and Barclay Goodrow, were on fire. Hertl had quite a night with two goals in the first 40 minutes, extending his goal-scoring streak to a career-best five games.

Hertl, Meier and Goodrow also accounted for the majority of San Jose's shots on goal within the first two periods. Although the rest of the offense began to come alive in the third, the Sharks still need to get to a point where all four lines play up to the level that the Hertl's played at against the Ducks.

Not-so-strong second 

Too often this season, the Sharks have followed up a strong first period with a sluggish second. Such was the case on Tuesday night, as San Jose grinded in the first period but came out in the second stanza flat-footed.

To make matters worse, the Sharks couldn't stay out of the penalty box in that period, which allowed Anaheim's dismal power play to find the back of the net. While the Sharks were able to tie the game back up before the period expired, they can't keep undoing all their hard work.