SAN JOSE -– For the Sharks to win on a consistent basis and challenge for the Pacific Division crown, two players they need to get going on a much more consistent basis are forwards Tomas Hertl and Tommy Wingels. Coach Pete DeBoer knows it, and that’s why he had them ride the pine for the final period against the Blackhawks on Wednesday night.
It couldn’t have been an easy decision. The Sharks trailed by just one goal with more than eight minutes left on the clock against the defending champions, but still the coach kept two of his key forward’s butts planted firmly on the bench.
On Saturday against the Flames, Hertl and Wingels made their coach look like the smartest man in Silicon Valley.
Wingels opened the scoring midway through the first, while Hertl was all over the ice from the opening puck drop in a convincing 5-2 win over a surprisingly poor Calgary team. Each finished with one goal and one assist, and their third line, along with left wing Matt Nieto, set the pace.
“Great response, exactly what we needed,” DeBoer said. “They were a key part of the game tonight.”
Wingels, who led the Sharks with four shots, said: “You have to find a way to bounce back and respond after a situation like last game. … It was a good rebound game for us, and we kind of showed ourselves and showed our teammates what kind of line we can be, so we need to continue to play that way.”
Hertl was particularly dynamic, scoring his first goal in 20 games to up San Jose’s lead to 2-0. He was strong with the puck, played physical, and even flashed a between-the-legs move in the offensive zone in the third period that didn’t result in a goal, but at least showed that he was feeling confident with his game.
Considering Logan Couture remains out and is now officially behind schedule in his recovery from a fractured right fibula, the Sharks could use more of that from their affable third-year center.
Hertl indicated he and linemate Wingels spoke before the game. “Just, let’s go play, [not] thinking we need to score goals. Just play the best hockey we can. Just play hard, keep shooting [from] everywhere.”
He also knows that the kind of performance he had on Saturday can’t be just a one-game act.
“Just keep playing every game now, not just one game,” Hertl said. “If we play just one game that’s no good. Hopefully [now] for us it can be a new year.”
The captain was impressed.
“It was one of the better games [Hertl] has played this year. You just saw the intensity,” Joe Pavelski said. “That’s what it takes. He’s a big body, skates well. … His linemates were going and they had the puck all night. It was good to see.”
Hertl and Wingels weren’t the only contributors, of course. The defense was much better and more careful with the puck than it had been on Wednesday, as it remained without Justin Braun with an infected left elbow. DeBoer was able to roll all three of his defense pairs, including Matt Tennyson and Mirco Mueller, for the duration.
“We played well as a team,” said Marc-Edouard Vlasic, who had a third period goal, one assist and a plus-2 rating. “We didn’t turn pucks over. Good support in the D-zone and good forecheck. You could be missing two of your top d-men, but if you play the way we did tonight, you’ll win.”
Special teams was also key. The Flames entered with the league’s worst power play and the second-worst penalty kill, and the Sharks took full advantage.
The Sharks killed off a pair of Calgary power plays early in the second period when the Flames were down just 2-0, and scored on a pair of Flames penalties later in the middle frame, including a five-on-three marker from Joel Ward and a wrist shot by Patrick Marleau with Ward setting a screen.
For the first time all season, the Sharks power play, which entered just 29th in the league, has scored in three straight games. Ward, in particular, seems to have given the top unit a boost.
“A couple key kills to start the second period that could have flipped the momentum, and obviously the two power play goals which really kind of put the game out of reach,” DeBoer said.
If the third line can get going and start producing at a higher rate, there could be more games the Sharks put out of reach.
“We’ll build on it, and continue to try and play that way,” Wingels said.