The San Jose Sharks jumped out early en route to another 4-1 win over a Pacific Division rival Saturday, October 5. However, the score was about the only thing similar to the opening night victory in their win over the Phoenix Coyotes.
After struggling on their power play against Vancouver, San Jose connected on two of four chances with the man-advantage over Phoenix. This time instead of overcoming an early deficit in a game that was close to the end, the home crowd was treated to a rare comfortable win in which the players did not take their foot off the gas.
Perhaps the oddest thing about this game was that Mike Smith was giving up goals to the Sharks. After the third, there was chatter on the Examiner Twitter feed about pulling him. Yet of the 16 skaters that were on San Jose's payroll by the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs, he allowed just one goal on 42 shots.
Fortunately, Tomas Hertl was not being paid by the Sharks until this summer. He scored two goals on four shots. (Tyler Kennedy was under the employ of the Pittsburgh Penguins before this summer, and had all four of his shots turned away by Smith.)
Could this be a case of a goalie crawling inside a team's heads? Consider that in his previous seven starts, Smith gave up just seven goals and had four shutouts among his six wins. Yet Comcast reporter Brodie Brazil tweeted "#TeenageMutantNinjaHertl" (note that he will no longer be a teenager November 12) on the first shot of the game.
Marc-Edouard Vlasic took advantage of the Sharks better-executing the game's first line change than the Coyotes, feeding Hertl on the other end of the neutral zone. The Czech rookie attacked the middle of the ice, got behind the defense and slipped a backhand past Smith.
His next goal came on the first power play. Matt Irwin got the puck at the point from Brent Burns, and his wrist shot was deflected by Hertl to finally give the Sharks something to show on the scoreboard for all their man-advantage prowess through the first four periods of the 2013-14 NHL season.
It also made the Czech phenom the second-youngest Shark to score two goals in one game—behind Patrick Marleau, who scored the second power play goal 12:30 into the game and noted when asked about Hertl that he was clearly "having fun" on the ice. Vlasic gathered in a rebound of a Joe Pavelski shot and sent it across to the one-time captain, giving Smith no chance to move over and get anything in the way.
San Jose had now tallied more markers on him than in six of his last seven times facing them combined. It was also the last time they were going to beat him, as he turned aside the next 38 shots to give his team a chance to get back in the contest.
However, the Sharks defense was stout and they continued to control the puck. Despite falling short in the faceoff circle for the second time in two games (39-44) and having more giveaways (10-8), they ended up with three more possessions because of takeaways (10-2).
More than that was what they did with the puck. Despite out-shooting their guests 51-23 and having 80 percent more shot attempts, the hosts held the edge in blocked shots, 14-13. The Coyotes managed a goal by Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who used his defender Vlasic to partially screen his wrist-shot score from the circle to Antti Niemi's glove side late in the second period.
Otherwise, their only response was physical play, but their 39-23 edge in hits came at the expense of three more penalties. Hertl was on the receiving end of one late in the game by fellow-Czech forward Martin Hanzal. Asked if he thought that was designed as retribution for his scores, Hertl chose gestures over struggling in English to point out that there was eye contact between them.
He also had fun in the dressing room, pretending to have a pulled hamstring as he came out to face the media. (Just to be sure, Examiner confirmed there was no real injury.) His beaming joy was so bright that it became the subject of several more questions, not only to him but his teammates and coaches.
Not only was his mother in attendance, but so was his girlfriend—on her birthday. He almost registered his first hat trick for the occasion on an empty net, but it was blocked. Pavelski later had a shot at the open net but chose instead to pass to Logan Couture. That shot missed, but a giveaway gave each another shot in order, with the second being a point-blank rebound goal.
Coach Todd McLellan said they would not be letting Hertl off the hook, but expecting more with the great players on his line. He also said he was happy with all but the last three minutes of the second period, but that the team was not satisfied despite two 4-1 wins over Pacific Division rivals to start the season.
It is all the more impressive because they did not have Adam Burish or Brad Stuart back yet. Interestingly, they also have kept Martin Havlat a scratch rather than place him on long-term injured reserve with Raffi Torres, suggesting he may be returning sooner rather than later. As long as the Sharks are down players, they will need more all-around efforts like this one to keep from letting the strong start fizzle out as it did last season—they will not always have all three stars in the photo list.