Tomas Hertl received an impossible task in Game One of the Stanley Cup Playoffs: stop Connor McDavid. In reality, no one can stop the new face of the National Hockey League; you can only hope to contain him. For the most part, the newly christened San Jose Sharks center did that when he found himself on the ice at the same time as McDavid.
More than that, Hertl flung himself all over the ice, creating scoring chances and giving San Jose some much-needed possession against the youthful Edmonton side. The Oilers, holding home-ice advantage, put McDavid on the ice whenever they pleased so San Jose head coach Pete DeBoer didn’t have the luxury of hard-matching Hertl against McDavid.
Regardless of his opponent, Hertl made his impact felt. The Oilers brought, perhaps surprisingly, a very physical element to their game; much like the Albertan team did early in the regular season. Those are games San Jose handled rather well because the Sharks generally handle physical teams. Hertl is a big reason why — his big ass no small part of that.
Every time Hertl got knocked down, and it happened more than once, he got back up with a big grin on his face. He never let the Oilers get in his head. For every Milan Lucic hit, Hertl was ready to dish it right back. Hits rarely change games unless players let them. Hertl never let the Oilers change the game by using their physicality.
Then there’s what Hertl did on the offensive end of the ice. He assisted on San Jose’s game-tying goal, which frankly doesn’t do his effort on Paul Martin’s tally justice. Hertl does all the hard work on the goal, embedded below, and Martin charges in (I don’t get to type that very often).
Hertl was a +7 in corsi differential at even strength according to hockeystats.ca, pretty impressive given the sort of competition he was up against. Better still? The center put seven shots on goal in the process. Yeah, that’ll do it.
The square you want to check out here is the one that connects McDavid with Hertl. More red is good news for the Sharks — and I think you’ll agree, this is very good news for San Jose.
Hertl has been one of the Sharks’ best players all season despite missing another huge chunk of games due to injury. His frequent transition between wing and center can’t possibly be easy because he’s asked to play two different roles; and that doesn’t get into the different tasks he’s asked to perform when playing on different lines.
Through all that he’s been one of San Jose’s most valuable players. I think he was the Sharks’ best player before he got hurt early in the season. Now, with the Sharks up 1-0 in this series, he may be their most important player again. Hertl is certainly the bright spot of Game One for San Jose; if he keeps up the kind of play we saw on Wednesday night, he may end up being the bright spot of the series.