For just the fifth time in 940 regular season games, Joe Pavelski skated over 25 minutes (25:16). Tomas Hertl went over (25:02) for the first time in his burgeoning career. Just two other Sharks forwards played over 20 minutes (Evander Kane, 22:35; Logan Couture, 21:41).
Pavelski and Hertl earned every second of their ice time, making plays big and small all over the ice.
“He’s a big, strong guy, hard to handle when he’s on the puck,” Kane remarked of Hertl.
A juking Hertl gave John Carlson (74) all he could handle behind the net, before the 6-foot-4 centerman cut to the front. Bothered by Evgeny Kuznetsov (92), Hertl couldn’t corral the puck. But he flashed his creativity and vision when chasing it, looking over his shoulder and dropping it off for Kane (9) to pick up.
Hertl then outhustled Carlson off the wall to the front.
Kane added about Hertl, “He’s a real patient player.”
Hertl (48) held the puck up high, waiting to draw in penalty killers Tom Wilson (43) and Lars Eller (20). That’s when Hertl cooly tossed it to Joe Thornton (19) at the half-wall.
Thornton sent it below the goal line to Pavelski (8). Critically, Pavelski one-touched the pass to Hertl walking down the slot. Anything less than a one-touch pass, perhaps Michal Kempny (6) blocks it.
Pavelski is dinged for his lack of mobility, but what speed he has, combined with his smarts, can still be impactful.
Forechecking Eller, Pavelski extended his stick to the right, discouraging Eller from skating that direction. In effect, Pavelski was steering Eller toward the corner. Pavelski’s stick then went left and a harried Eller sailed the puck over the glass.
Hertl gained the zone to help get San Jose’s power play set up; he’s one of the team’s best forwards in terms of carrying in the puck.
Couture sold shot, keeping Jonas Siegenthaler (6) away from Pavelski. This fraction of time that Couture bought Pavelski was all-important, as the Sharks were able to essentially repeat Hertl’s opening strike.
Couture connected down low with Pavelski. Because Couture sold shot and Pavelski one-touched his pass, Siegenthaler was caught spinning like a top.
Just as important as Hertl and Alex Ovechkin’s dueling hat tricks was the 25-year-old’s defensive effort.
As Ovechkin (8) entered the zone, Hertl managed to angle the NHL’s leading goalscorer off. Then, behind the net, Hertl rubbed out Ovechkin, taking the puck.
This hit had another benefit; this wasn’t physicality just for physicality’s sake. It put Ovechkin behind the play, opening up a three-on-two going the other way.
“[It] maybe even feels better because before the last goal, I took it from him,” beamed Hertl.
Before October, we knew what to expect from Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson. Both have delivered. It’s San Jose’s forwards who have over-delivered, making the Sharks — potentially — one of the most complete teams in the league.
The 34-year-old Pavelski was playing with an injury last year and appeared to be in decline. Until last season’s playoffs, Hertl always seemed to be merely scratching at the surface of his talent.
They weren’t the only question marks. Kane was freshly signed to a seven-year extension after just his second season with more than 50 points. 21-year-old Timo Meier was still green. There was no telling what Thornton would provide after multiple knee surgeries.
Now, while San Jose doesn’t offer a transcendent star up front, they own perhaps as much high-end depth as anybody else. The Sharks boast seven 40-plus point scorers (Burns, Karlsson, Couture, Meier, Pavelski, Hertl, Kane), the most in the league. The Flames and Penguins follow with five apiece.
If counting stats aren’t your thing, San Jose and Pittsburgh are also the only NHL squads with as many as nine 1.0+ WAR skaters (all situations). Evolving-Hockey’s WAR, or Wins Above Replacement, is a new take on the now-classic baseball stat.
It must be said, the Sharks have benefited from excellent health, all in all. But it’s clear — despite the below-average goaltending, inconsistent team defense and 24 goals surrendered over the last four contests — that this is a supremely-talented side.