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