SAN JOSE – First two career NHL goals aside, Sharks rookie Tomas Hertl’s timing is impeccable.
Against a goaltender that has quite simply owned the Sharks over the last two years, it took Hertl less than a minute to flip a breakaway backhander past Mike Smith in Saturday’s 4-1 win over Phoenix at SAP Center.
[Instant Replay: Sharks bite early, beat Coyotes 4-1]
After leaping into the air in joyous celebration, he pointed towards the stands to his mother and girlfriend, the latter of which just happened to be celebrating her birthday.
Hertl scored again less than seven minutes later on the power play, and the Sharks skated to their second win in as many tries in a game in which they were never really in danger. San Jose outshot the Coyotes 51-23, also getting goals from Patrick Marleau (power play) and Logan Couture (empty net). Antti Niemi made 22 saves and has allowed just two goals in two games.
But the evening belonged to Hertl, and on several occasions in the game, sections of the sellout crowd at the Shark Tank were heard chanting the 19-year-old Czech native’s name.
“It’s a big night for him, an exciting night, and one that he’ll remember for a long time. And, one that we’ll all remember as well,” Todd McLellan said. “We were part of his first goal, and second win. More importantly, the group played really, really well.”
Getting that early marker against Smith, who had a 6-0-1 record, 1.00 goals-against average and .971 save percentage in his last seven starts against the Sharks, was key. Adding a second and a third before the first period was over was even better.
Joe Thornton said: “You know he’s a world-class goalie. You’ve just got to make your shots count. Early on we got to him a little bit, and if you can get a couple quick goals on him, it definitely helps.”
“To score on the first shot against [Smith], that kind of gives you a little more confidence that you can beat him,” McLellan said. “He’s certainly had our number, so we’re happy with that.”
Defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic earned the primary assist on Hertl’s first goal and again on Marleau’s power play goal with a couple of slick feeds. Vlasic spotted Hertl behind the Coyotes’ defense in the neutral zone and fed him with a perfect tape-to-tape pass from behind the blue line, and later gobbled up the rebound of a Joe Pavelski shot and slid it to Marleau for a slam dunk on a power play at 12:30 of the first period.
Vlasic said: “Patty scores 40 goals a year. Might as well give it to him, right?”
The goal was Marleau’s second in as many games, while Vlasic has three assists on the young season.
The Coyotes finally showed signs to life late in the second period, when Oliver Ekman-Larsson used Vlasic as a screen to make it 3-1 at 16:47 of the second period. Phoenix took some momentum from the goal, but the Sharks got to the second intermission with their two-goal cushion unharmed.
The third period saw San Jose outshoot Phoenix, 17-6.
“We probably had them for a period and a half, they score that goal and you kind of feel it shift a little bit,” Thornton said of the momentum. “It was nice to come in here and relax, get focused, come back and play well in the third.”
McLellan said: “We were on our heels a little bit there [late in the second]. After that, we reestablished our play, and went after them.”
Hertl, though, was the one that gave the home team the momentum in the first place, becoming the youngest Sharks player since Marleau in 1999 to record a two-goal night.
“You can see how he’s having fun out there, smiling a lot,” Marleau said. “He brings a lot of energy to this group, and it’s fun to see.”
The Sharks registered 50 shots on goal for the ninth time in franchise history. Eight of those have come under McLellan. … Marleau had a game-high eight shots on goal. … Pavelski had two assists.