SAN JOSE -– Tomas Hertl, top line Sharks center?
Sure looked like it at practice on Friday.
The third year Czech native skated between Sharks leading scorer Joe Pavelski and Patrick Marleau, as Pete DeBoer shuffled his lines with Logan Couture out again and his club mired in a five-game losing streak.
The other forward lines were Joe Thornton centering Melker Karlsson and Tommy Wingels; Chris Tierney between Joel Ward and Joonas Donskoi; and rookie Ryan Carpenter skating with Dainius Zubrus and Mike Brown. Ben Smith (concussion) and Matt Nieto (lower body injury) are the other injured players, along with Couture.
“As far as mixing the lines up, a couple things: [Couture] not being in, also just some different looks,” DeBoer said. “I think our five-on-five play has been pretty good, but our production hasn’t been where we want it to be. Going to mix some things up and see if that sparks it.”
The Sharks broke through for three five-on-five goals in Edmonton on Wednesday in a 4-3 overtime loss, but prior to that, the club had just one even strength goal in four games, losing all of them in regulation.
In addition, the previous top line of Thornton, Pavelski and Karlsson hadn’t scored an even strength goal in the six games before the Edmonton loss. Pavelski was finally able to break though with a third period score against the Oilers, bumping in a floating pass from Donskoi.
The new trio of Thornton, Karlsson and Wingels features players struggling to produce. Karlsson has no points in his last nine games; Wingels has two points in the last 10 games (both coming against Calgary on Nov. 28); and Thornton has also slowed with one goal and one assist in his last 10.
Thornton’s production, or lack thereof, is concerning with just 16 points in 28 games. Simply put, the Sharks will go nowhere without the future Hall of Fame center getting on the scoresheet much more often.
DeBoer offered his take on the 36-year-old's game.
“I think there’s a few factors that go into that. Not to make excuses for him, but we’re relied heavily on him without Couture in the lineup. He’s played a lot of minutes for us,” said the coach.
“Our schedule lately has been borderline brutal. Back-to-backs, four in six nights, I think all that plays a factor with a guy like that. I’m not too concerned about it. I know at the end of the day what we’re going to get out of Joe, and that production is going to be there at the end of the season.”
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Hertl isn’t exactly lighting the world on fire, with three goals and 10 assists in 28 games. Still, he’ll get a chance to play with two of the Sharks’ better forwards against Minnesota on Saturday. The advanced stats suggest that Hertl is doing some good things on the ice, as he’s second on the team in shot attempt percentage (53.5 percent), and fourth in shots (68) with a shooting percentage of just 4.4 percent.
The genial 22-year-old struggled with his confidence last season when things weren’t going well, but that doesn’t seem to be an issue now.
“This season is way better,” Hertl said. “I still have some details in the d-zone, [but] it’s still [my] first season in the NHL at center, and I like it. Last two games I have eight shots [so] that’s good for me.”
The six-foot-two, 215-pound center’s best game of the season came on Nov. 28 against the Flames when he had one goal and one assist, and used his sizable frame to play a more physical style. It was that kind bravura performance that will make him an effective NHL center, and he knows it.
“I am a big guy, and I must use my weight,” he said. “Every d-man will say it’s tough if I use my ass and just [control] the puck. If I’m on [the] puck, I feel great.”
Saturday’s game will offer the Sharks a chance to end their losing streak and go into a five-game road trip that starts in Montreal next Tuesday on a high note.
DeBoer senses a levelheaded club, despite all of the recent defeats.
“I get the feeling that we’ve been in every game, that every game we played we’ve had an opportunity to win, even the ones where the scores ended up a little lopsided,” he said. “I think you could argue those were all winnable games for us. Mentally, we’re fine.”