Programming note: Islanders-Sharks coverage starts tonight at 7 p.m. with Sharks Pregame Live on Comcast SportsNet California
SAN JOSE – The game came easy to Sharks forward Tomas Hertl in his rookie season.
On November 1, 2013, Hertl led the Sharks and was tied for the seventh in the NHL with eight goals in 13 games. He was a major factor in San Jose busting out of the gate with a 10-1-2 record in the first month of the season.
Fast forward to the present, and Hertl has just two goals and one assist in 12 games to start 2014-15. It appears that for now, the 20-year-old will be relegated to fourth line duty at least to start the game when the Sharks host the Islanders on Saturday night.
“I need some goals,” Hertl said. “Last season I had more goals and everything, this season just two goals and one assist is not too many, playing 17 minutes on the first line. It’s no good.”
Hertl hasn’t scored since Oct. 16, and has just one assist in his last eight games. A good example of his exasperating start came on Tuesday in Colorado, when he had the puck on his backhand while looking at an open net, but rang it off of the crossbar in the first period. Those were the kinds of goals that he was burying a year ago.
Against the Wild two nights later, an ineffective Hertl took a few shifts on the fourth line and finished with no shots on goal despite playing more than 17 minutes.
Hertl said that his surgically repaired right knee is not an issue, but indicated that he’s falling too much on the ice so being stronger on his skates is vital. The coaching staff has stressed getting to the blue paint to increase his output, too.
“I thought in Denver the other night he was exceptional in that area. He was around the net all the time,” Todd McLellan said. “When you go back at look at how he had success last year, a lot of it came from there.
“In the games prior to that he was on the outside, he wasn’t working to get into position. You have to get there. You have to be there to have success. Tomas has to work on that a little bit.”
McLellan offered a reminder earlier this week that Hertl is still a young player getting acclimated to the league, and missed almost the entire second half of his rookie season due to injury.
Perhaps expectations should be tempered, for the time being.
“There’s talk of a superstar, and Jaromir Jagr comparisons, and that can still happen later on. Then, he gets hurt, and from that point on he’s had to work really hard to feel good again on the ice," McLellan said.
“It’s just not happening for him right now. It can and will still happen. He’s got some work to do practice-wise coming up this week, but he’s 20 years old. There’s a lot of really good rookies that come year two, maybe underestimate the league a little bit. I’m not saying Tomas has done that, but the results are showing it.”
Hertl said he has never gone through a scoring drought like the one he’s experiencing now. There is some frustration.
“It’s a little tough for me because on my last team, too, I’ve never been this long of a time with no scoring,” Hertl said. “It’s hard. I just keep working.”
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Antti Niemi will make his fourth straight start, opposing the Islanders' Jaroslav Halak. Niemi enters with a 5-2-1 record, 2.67 goals-against average and .921 save percentage, while a struggling Halak is 3-3-0 with a 3.51 GAA and .889 SP.
John Scott's two-game suspension is over, but indications are Scott and Tye McGinn will be the healthy scratches up front.
Sharks defenseman Scott Hannan will be honored before the game for playing in his 1000th NHL game on Oct. 14 in Washington.