Tomas Hertl thriving at center and Sharks win over Penguins showed why

Tomas Hertl thriving at center and Sharks win over Penguins showed why

SAN JOSE – Sure, the Sharks’ 5-2 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday night was chock full of highlights.

There was Martin Jones’ glove save of Sidney Crosby at 5:40 in the first period. Joe Thornton scored a goal in his 1,000th game in teal. Evander Kane had the puck on his stick nearly every single time he was on the ice.

Yet the most memorable moment occurred toward the end of the first frame, just before Tomas Hertl scored his first goal on the evening. That’s not to say tallying his second career hat trick in the final minutes of regulation and having caps rain down from the stands didn't make an impression.

But, Hertl was so committed to scoring that first goal he literally butt-checked Pittsburgh star Evgeni Malkin off the play in order to keep his scoring chance alive.

“Every guy’s laughing because I used my big ass again,” Hertl laughed when the media asked about the play after the win.

The Czech forward has been nails since coach Peter DeBoer moved him to center, a position he's played on-and-off in his time in teal. With Evander Kane and Joonas Donskoi on his wings, the Hertl-led third line – if you can even call them that anymore – keeps generating offense for San night after night.

With his defensive play and three goals on the night, Tuesday perfectly showed how Hertl has become comfortable and confident playing the pivot.

“I try to play to every game a little bit better in the d-zone,” Hertl said. “I still have to work out some details, but I think every game is better and better. I will just try to keep working and feel like a centerman for my wings.”

[RELATED: Peter DeBoer 'still a bit off' after suffering concussion]

Hertl’s transformation into a mainstay in the middle is another positive development in what has, thus far, been a productive campaign.

With the exception of some minor injuries earlier in the season, the 25-year-old forward has stayed relatively healthy and has emerged as an undeniable force for San Jose’s offense. Tuesday’s hat trick gives him 11 goals in 20 games – in addition to 10 assists he’s also tallied during that time. His third goal of the evening was also the 100th of his NHL career.

Not surprisingly, Hertl’s more excited that his line as a whole is playing well. Kane has points in eight of his last nine games, and Donskoi has registered four in his last five. Whenever these guys are on the ice together, good things seem to happen.

“I’m happy for our line because we’ve built some chemistry,” he said. “We’re getting chances every night. It’s really fun where we’re at right now on the ice.”

And how could he not have fun? The Sharks’ winning streak stands at seven games, and they’re defeating some of the toughest teams in the league – yes, even the Penguins.

“I’m so happy just for everybody on the ice because we’re just winning and that’s the most important,” Hertl said, flashing his signature smile. “Winning is a lot of fun. It’s not just about who scores, it’s about how we win the game. So I’m really happy for that.”

Sharks must avoid letdown vs. Red Wings to keep winning streak alive


Sharks must avoid letdown vs. Red Wings to keep winning streak alive

SAN JOSE - Sharks fans can breathe a sigh of relief now that head coach Peter DeBoer has confirmed that Tomas Hertl and Mario Ferraro are back in the lineup for Saturday's matchup against the Detroit Red Wings.

But just merely having these two pieces in the lineup doesn't mean the Sharks can sit back and take this game lightly. 

San Jose has strung five consecutive wins together, the most recent coming on Thursday night against a tough division rival in the Anaheim Ducks. The key now is to not get comfortable -- especially with the team still trying to climb their way up the standings.

"We talked to our group this morning," head coach Peter DeBoer told the media Saturday morning. "Human nature, (after) you've won five in a row and a big road win against a division rival is to kind of take a deep breath. And we can't fall into that trap."

Sure, San Jose has gotten points in five straight games and has defeated tough Western Conference competition in the Predators, Oilers, and Ducks. However, they're still sitting at just 19 points in the standings, second-to-last in the division and nine points behind the Pacific-leading Edmonton squad. Even with those five straight victories, San Jose still has an uphill climb ahead of them.

The trap becomes even bigger with the Red Wings in town. They might be at the bottom of their division, but that isn't likely to stop them from making the Sharks pay for their mistakes, no matter how small they are.

"This team always plays us hard, always tough," DeBoer said. "They're a speed team, which always gives us trouble. Their first line has been firing on all cylinders. So we've got to make sure we're prepared for this game."

The visiting Red Wings are 4-4-2 in their last 10 contests, having a three-game winning streak snapped by the Kings in LA on Thursday night. Over that span, they've been outscored 38-25 and have gone 7-for-31 on the power play.

While those numbers would seem to indicate that San Jose won't have too much trouble containing Detroit's offense, the top line consisting of Anthony Mantha, Tyler Bertuzzi, and Dylan Larkin has combined for 12 points against the Sharks over their careers.

Not to mention that the Sharks haven't always fared well against the Red Wings in the past, going 34-50-4-6 through 94 regular-season meetings and splitting last season's series 1-1-0.

[RELATED: What we learned as Sharks' win streak reaches five games]

The biggest key for the Sharks on Saturday night is going to be keeping the defense tight and the puck in enemy territory -- and preferably to not take their foot off the gas late in the game and allow Detroit to score any late goals.

This seemingly should be an easier task with Hertl and Ferraro healthy and in the lineup. But with the threat of a letdown looming after winning five straight games, San Jose has to be on top of their game no matter what. 

Sharks' Tomas Hertl day-to-day after suffering knee injury vs. Ducks


Sharks' Tomas Hertl day-to-day after suffering knee injury vs. Ducks

Any reference to a possible knee injury for Tomas Hertl should make all Sharks fans hold their breath, but it sounds like they can exhale.

After departing San Jose's 5-3 win over the Ducks on Thursday night in the third period following a collision with Anaheim forward Sam Steel, Hertl did not return to the game, and his status was not updated by the team afterward.

That changed Friday when Sharks coach Peter DeBoer told reporters that images of Hertl's right knee taken earlier that morning confirmed, "that it looks like it's minor and that's good news."

When asked Friday, Hertl said he is day-to-day and that he was going to see the team doctor in the afternoon to get treatment. The injury comes at a particularly unfortunate time, as Hertl is in the midst of a career-best five-game goal-scoring streak, which perfectly coincides with San Jose's five-game winning streak.

"I was coming back and the guy was falling, for sure my knee, and fell on it," Hertl described to The Mercury News' Curtis Pashelka. "I’ve got some history, so we just take it back and just check. That’s why they take me out and I couldn’t even finish the game. We’ll see. For now, it’s just day-to-day. But nothing serious and hopefully be OK for game."

The history to which Hertl referred to is the reason for the aforementioned breath-holding. In Dec. 2013, he required surgery to repair damage to the MCL and PCL in the same right knee. He re-injured it again in Game 2 of the 2016 Stanley Cup Final and sprained it the following November and missed 33 games.

"Before it was always way worse, but sometimes even the small things you can make worse," Hertl said. "But this time, hopefully, (it’s) just a little tweak or something and it will be alright."

[RELATED: What we learned as Sharks' win streak reaches five games]

The Sharks go for their sixth straight win when they host Red Wings on Saturday night, and it remains to be seen if Hertl will be in the lineup to face Detroit. San Jose could elect to place Hertl on injured reserve to free up a roster spot if needed, but that would mean he would be ineligible to play for at least a week. As Pashelka notes, another option would be to place rookie defenseman Mario Ferraro -- who hasn't played since Nov. 7 -- on retroactive IR.