Programming note: Bruins-Sharks coverage starts Thursday at 7 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet California with Sharks Pregame Live
SAN JOSE –- There weren’t many Sharks playing well in the first period against the Flyers on Tuesday.
Tomas Hertl, though, was. The sophomore forward has been performing much better lately, including an impressive goal against the Ducks last Saturday that looked like something straight out of his rookie season.
His performance early in the Flyers game earned him an eventual place back on the Joe Thornton-Joe Pavelski line in the second period, and that group generated some decent scoring chances in the Sharks’ 2-1 win. Hertl led the Sharks with six shot attempts in the game, including three that were stopped by Steve Mason.
[RECAP: Sharks edge Flyers 2-1]
“He had a spark, and he ended up with Pav and Jumbo at the end of the night,” Todd McLellan said. “They created some scoring chances later on. I think Tomas’ game is improving as time goes on.”
Hertl said: “Every game now is a little bit better. Last game I got a couple good chances for scoring, maybe three very good chances. I’m happy the chances are coming. I need just a little bit of luck now.”
Hertl’s season stat line of five goals and six assists in 26 games doesn’t leap off of the page, but for the first time on Wednesday there were some indications from both Hertl and McLellan that it’s taken some time for the 21-year-old to recover from a serious right knee injury last December that required surgery to repair ligament damage.
That injury happened, of course, courtesy of Dustin Brown’s controversial hit on Dec. 19. Hertl returned late in the regular season and in the playoffs, but wasn’t all the way back in terms of his recovery. He went on to play at the World Championships for his native Czech Republic, and suffered another minor injury there that McLellan said he “believed” was in the same knee.
That derailed Hertl's offseason training regimen, and the subsequent lack of scoring once the 2014-15 season began negatively affected his confidence.
“If we revert back to the beginning of the season, his injury at the World Championships probably set him back, and maybe now he’s getting to the level that he needs to be at confidence-wise and conditioning-wise," McLellan said. "He’s starting to show up much more positively in games than he did earlier in the year.”
Hertl said he’s now weighing in at 216 pounds, but believes he’s still getting bigger – not necessarily in terms of weight, but adding more muscle to his six-foot-two-inch frame. He's still growing into his body.
In typical Hertl style, with a huge smile on his face, he said that he’s “still a baby,” citing his inability to grow a November mustache as proof.
“I think I’ll be stronger in a couple years because I’m still growing up. I think I’ll be much stronger,” he said.
During his early season struggles of just two goals through 12 games, including a stretch of just one assist in eight games, Hertl mentioned he was falling down on the ice too often. Being stronger on his skates was necessary if he was going to start having an impact again.
Now, it’s a bit clearer why that might have been a problem. Fortunately for Hertl and the Sharks, he’s starting to again resemble that Calder Trophy candidate from this time last year.
“You have to give this young guy credit,” McLellan said. “He’s got a spirit about him that’s a really positive spirit. He fights through it.”
“He’s stronger, better conditioned, stamina is better. Those are visible changes in his game, and as a result he’s getting better.”