Confident Hertl keying Sharks' recent surge


SAN JOSE – There has probably been no bigger beneficiary of the Sharks having all of their key pieces back in the lineup than Tomas Hertl.

Hertl moved to the wing of the Joe Thornton-Joe Pavelski line on Jan. 9, and the 22-year-old forward has managed three goals and six points since then, including the overtime winner against Dallas in a 4-3 home win on Saturday night.

In what was a wildly entertaining, back-and-forth game at SAP Center, Hertl tallied the first-ever three-on-three overtime winner for the Sharks in their own building. He received a pass from Marc-Edouard Vlasic, cut towards the net, and shot the puck through former teammates Jason Demers and Antti Niemi to give San Jose its most impressive win on its five-game streak.

“[Vlasic] just kept skating and I [was] waiting and he passed to me, and I just tried to [shoot],” Hertl said. “I’m so happy for this goal.”

His best play, though, came earlier in the night when he assisted on the Sharks’ first score. He aggressively charged ahead with the puck into the offensive zone drawing two defenders along the wall, and took a hit from Dallas’ Cody Eakin while slipping the puck to Thornton. With room to operate, Thornton spotted Vlasic, who tied the game at 1-1 in the second period.

“I thought he was on the puck all night,” Pete DeBoer said of Hertl after the game. “I thought he was hard to play against. He created a lot of chances. He was really hard for them to handle throughout the game. He was feeling good tonight, and when we were deciding on guys to throw out there in overtime, his name was near the top of the list."

[REWIND: Sharks win over Stars the most impressive of five-game streak]

The Sharks winning streak began when DeBoer took Hertl out of the third line center role and placed him back into the same position he found so much success at as a rookie in 2013. Although his underlying advanced stats suggested Hertl was doing some good things on the ice, the results and the eye-test showed he still might not be ready to skate in the middle on a full-time basis.

The scoring surge has come at an important time. While Hertl’s infectious smile has made him one of the team’s most popular players, the flip side is that he tends to get down on himself when he’s not producing.

Speaking on Jan. 8, the day before a breakthrough performance against the Maple Leafs in his first game on the top line, Hertl said: ”I need to start playing way better still.” The dejection in his voice was evident, the consequence of scoring just two goals in his previous 34 games.

After Saturday’s game, Hertl was asked if his confidence has returned since the line change.

“Yeah, for sure,” he said. “Last five games [so has] everybody, and me, for sure, too.”

DeBoer agreed that Hertl’s confidence has ebbed and flowed all season.

“He's played some really good stretches without [Thornton and Pavelski], and then he's faded into the background a little bit too much, same thing with a lot of the young guys.

“Obviously you look at the lineup and see you're on [a line] with those two guys, that is a motivator for sure. I wouldn't say that's the only reason he's played well. He's had some spurts where he's played well without those guys."

DeBoer is unlikely to make any changes to his lineup now that the team seems to be hitting a bit of a stride. That means Patrick Marleau and a healthy Logan Couture will remain in the middle, and Hertl will continue to get a chance to keep contributing with the captain and a likely future Hall of Famer by his side.

“Hopefully more good games and no bad games,” Hertl said. “We have five wins in a row, a couple home games. Just keep pushing, we need points.”

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