Sharks

Timo Meier's growth as power forward on display in Sharks' Game 1 win

meiersidebarusatsi.jpg
USATSI

Timo Meier's growth as power forward on display in Sharks' Game 1 win

SAN JOSE - You can't talk about the Sharks' win in Game 1 of the Western Conference final without talking about Timo Meier.

His two goals. His physical play. Everything about his game stood out Saturday. 

The best-of-seven series between the Sharks and St. Louis Blues promises to be a mix of both skill and force -- two elements that Meier showcased simultaneously In Game 1. But this performance wasn't a one-off or a rare occurrence. 

Even through slumps in the regular season, the 22-year-old winger continued along his trajectory. Now, he's grown into the power forward who can help the Sharks on a long playoff run.

"He’s a great player, for one," Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said after his team's 6-3 win at SAP Center. "I mean, we took him in the top 10 in the draft, so you know you’ve got talent."

The Swiss forward has certainly come a long way since the Sharks selected him with the ninth overall pick in the loaded 2015 NHL Draft -- the same year the Edmonton Oilers drafted Connor McDavid No. 1 overall. Instead of being thrown right into the NHL mix, Meier spent another year with his junior club in the 2015-16 season, and logged some time with the AHL Barracuda before getting his first look with the Sharks the following year.

He bounced back and forth between the AHL and NHL in 2016-17, and was even scratched early in his second professional season last year. But through it all, Meier has developed and found his game.

Meier broke out for 66 points (30 goals, 36 assists) during the regular season, and now has 13 (five goals, eight assists) in 15 games this postseason. According to DeBoer, Meier's development has been as planned.

"I think power forwards take longer, especially physical guys," DeBoer said. "I think those guys take a little longer to have success at the NHL level, learning how to use that physicality and still use their skill. So I think he’s right on track."

There was no better example of Meier's emergence as a power forward than on his first goal Saturday. With the Sharks holding onto a 3-2 lead midway through the second period, Meier pounced on a loose puck in the offensive zone and then muscled his way around Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester to beat netminder Jordan Binnington with a back-hand shot. 

"He was a bull," Logan Couture said of his linemate. "You saw the talent on the one where he was able to walk around the d-man and finish. He’s a really good player. He’s coming into his own right now.”

Meier's second goal was a bit more fortunate, but still impressive. From behind the goal line, Meier banked a puck off of Blues defenseman Vince Dunn's left skate and past Binnington to give the Sharks a 5-2 lead. 

"I knew the goalie was moving, and the defenseman was coming at me, so I just tried to play with the luck a little bit there and get it right in front," Meier said. " ... It's nice to get a goal like that, where you had some other chances you where you maybe thought it should've went in. It's nice to get one like that, and a big goal to get some separation."

[RELATED: Dillon breaks down biggest difference between Blues, Avs]

The Blues are going to have a hard time stopping the Sharks in this series if Meier builds on his Game 1 performance. As a young player in the midst of the best postseason campaign of his professional career, Meier is proving to be a staple in the Sharks' ever-improving offensive arsenal.

"Now he’s arrived, and it’s the real deal,” DeBoer said.

Ex-Shark Patrick Marleau, Penguins eliminated in NHL qualifying round

Ex-Shark Patrick Marleau, Penguins eliminated in NHL qualifying round

Sharks legend Patrick Marleau might have had his last decent chance to win a Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins in the NHL restart. Hopefully he gets another opportunity, because it ain't happening this year.

The fifth-seeded Penguins were stunned and upset by the 12-seeded Montreal Canadiens in the qualifying round after the Habs advanced to the playoffs with a 3-1 series victory on Friday. Pittsburgh lost Game 1 and was never able to recover, thanks in large part to Montreal goalie Carey Price.

The Penguins scored just eight goals in the series, none of which were deposited by Marleau. In fact, the long-time Shark didn't record a single point across the four games. The Penguins acquired him at the trade deadline in exchange for what is now confirmed to be a 2021 third-round draft pick, as San Jose wanted to give him an opportunity to check that last box on his career résumé.

Marleau now will become an unrestricted free agent. It has been widely presumed that if he indeed returns for a 23rd NHL season, it might come in a third go-around with the Sharks. San Jose finished dead last in the Western Conference this season, but the Sharks' record was largely impacted by injuries and they certainly could return to the playoffs next year.

Really, it would only be fitting if Marleau ended his career in teal.

As for the Sharks, the qualifying round has gone nearly as well as they could have hoped for. Of the four Pacific Division teams that were involved, only the Edmonton Oilers failed to advance, though the Vancouver Canucks still need one more victory over the Minnesota Wild to do so.

Due to the wacky 2020 NHL draft lottery, each team eliminated in the qualifying round has a 12.5 percent chance to land the No. 1 overall pick. Whichever team lands it is widely expected to use it on consensus top prospect Alexis Lafreniere.

[RELATED: Sharks' Hertl 'finally back' on ice after tearing ACL, MCL]

So, if the Canucks advance, there's an 87.5 percent chance -- barring trades -- that Lafreniere won't immediately end up in the Sharks' division.

Given the season they had, they'll take any win they can get.

Sharks' Tomas Hertl 'finally back' on ice after January knee injury

Sharks' Tomas Hertl 'finally back' on ice after January knee injury

It's not clear when the Sharks will play next.

One star took a big step towards rejoining them when they do.

Tomas Hertl posted a video Wednesday on his Instagram of him skating in his native Czech Republic, writing that he was "[f]inally back" on the ice.

View this post on Instagram

Finally back 🏒 @filipchlapik @hertlik89

A post shared by Tomas Hertl (@hertlik48) on

Hertl, 26, tore the ACL and MCL in his left knee in January and missed the final 18 games of the Sharks' season before it was suspended -- and, ultimately, ended -- due to the coronavirus pandemic. The center injured his knee on Jan. 29 against the Vancouver Canucks, just four days after playing in his first All-Star Game. 

The 2012 first-round pick was one of the lone bright spots in the Sharks' otherwise dreary season, scoring 36 points (16 goals, 20 assists) in 48 games. San Jose generated 56.76 percent of the expected goals and 54.38 percent of the high-danger chances with Hertl on the ice at full strength, according to Natural Stat Trick, and Hertl himself accounted for his highest rate of 5-on-5 expected goals (0.95 per hour) of any season other than his rookie year.

Hertl said in May that he expected to be ready to start the 2020-21 season, no matter when that is.

"I want to be there for my team, and that’s why I have been working every day for four months even with the season so far away," Hertl said at the time. "My next goal is getting back and being better than before. I know I can do it. I have to give it everything I can to get back.”

[RELATED: Thornton reportedly could play in Switzerland before NHL season]

Hertl's return to the ice marks an offseason milestone for the forward, who's signed through 2022.

He and his wife, Aneta, announced last month that they're expecting a baby in November.