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Winning Play: Handling Hertl

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Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury #29 of the Vegas Golden Knights defends his goal agains the shot of Tomas Hertl #48 of the San Jose Sharks during the second period in Game Two of the Western Conference First Round during the 2019 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at SAP Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Carrying over from last year’s series, Tomas Hertl decimated the Vegas Golden Knights, especially down low, in Game 1.

The Golden Knights turned the tables in Game 2’s 5-3 victory over the San Jose Sharks.

Granted, there was limited 5-on-5 action because of the 11 total power plays. But some possible trends emerged as to how Gerard Gallant will combat Hertl and his line for the rest of the series.

Get puck out of Hertl’s hands

Hertl (48) won the draw, but two Golden Knights, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare (41) and Ryan Reaves (75) converged on him. Reaves is most interesting because he left his man, Evander Kane (9), to double-team Hertl. This forced Hertl to surrender it to the open man, but Kane was flat-footed, so Shea Theodore (27) was able to step up on Kane and force a dump-in.

Negate forecheck

Because the quick-footed Theodore forced Kane to give the puck up early, Kane couldn’t build up speed. This neutralized the line’s most effective forechecker — as we saw on Joe Thornton’s goal, Kane’s size and speed can prove to be hell on wheels on the forecheck. Bellemare ran legal interference on Hertl, hampering the Czech’s stride. Brayden McNabb (3) beat Gustav Nyquist (14) to the corner. Theodore supported by heading toward the other corner to fetch the puck.

By my count, the Hertl, Kane and Nyquist line recovered the puck just twice on 12 dump-ins in 6:55 at 5-on-5.

Limit speed through neutral zone

Related to getting the puck out of Hertl’s hands, Vegas seemed to place an emphasis on limiting his speed through the neutral zone.

There’s good reason for that, as we can see in one of the few times that Hertl was able to rumble through the neutral zone in stride last night:

Simply put, the 6-foot-2 Czech is a wide, but shockingly agile, load when he gains speed through the neutral zone.

Gallant’s solution? Don’t let Hertl Power even get started:

Twice, Erik Karlsson (65) tried to get Hertl going through the neutral zone, but Max Pacioretty (67) then Mark Stone (61) weren’t having it.

Use McNabb and Theodore

The Hertl line started both the first and second periods. In a situation where neither coach got first change, staring across from them both times were McNabb and Theodore.

In earlier clips, we saw how Theodore’s quickness was useful in hassling the Hertl line.

But just as critical is the 6-foot-5 McNabb, one of the few Golden Knights who can bang down-low against the powerful Hertl:

McNabb made sure Hertl knew he was there, bodying his adversary up four times in these 13 seconds — highlighted by preventing Hertl from establishing net front position by backing him into the post.

In an admittedly small sample size, McNabb held Hertl and his line to zero shot attempts against in 4:10 of head-to-head action at 5-on-5.

“The 5-on-5 game, I thought we were okay,” Peter DeBoer said. “This time of year, it’s hard to win when you’re just okay.”

Per Natural Stat Trick, it looked like San Jose had two lines going at 5-on-5 and two lines not so much:

It was a superb Vegas team defensive effort and something to look for when the series shifts back to Las Vegas.

Notebook

Mistakes from the Sharks’ kingpin blueliners led to both back-breaking short-handed goals.

On the Colin Miller strike, Karlsson mismanaged the time — there were six seconds left on the San Jose 5-on-3 at the time of the initial draw — allowing Miller out of the penalty box to swoop in on a soft pass. It’s worth noting that Miller won both the Fastest Skater and Hardest Shot at the 2015 AHL All-Star Game, so despite his three regular season goals, he’s got some skill.

On the William Karlsson dagger, Brent Burns lurched toward a dead puck along the wall that he had little chance to win, allowing Karlsson (71) to get behind him to receive a pass from Reilly Smith.

These were clear mistakes, but honestly, you’ll take them. Karlsson and Burns are expected to think offense-first, and far more often than not, their bold decision-making turns out to be right. You have to take the good and the bad.

Related is the fact that San Jose went one-for-eight on the power play. Expect a more back-to-the-basics approach on Sunday.

“It probably wasn’t direct enough,” Joe Pavelski said. “When we’ve got it, if we’ve got the shot, just a little quicker.”

Logan Couture agreed, “We were too slow with the puck. [We have to be] more decisive, shooting it.”

Speaking of Couture, his controversial penalty dominated post-game conversation.

From his perspective, he said, “I thought I was outside of the crease. I thought Fleury kind of ran into me. But I have to watch the replay.”

He confirmed that McNabb did touch him but didn’t think it was intentional. However, the referees told him, “[The referee] said I ran into him. I hit him. And no one touched me, I went in myself.”

Both coaches had a lot more to say:

I wavered in my opinion, landing in the middle:

Finally, Martin Jones, predictably, wasn’t thrilled to be asked about the Golden Knights’ apparent spell on him.

Over his entire career, Jones has been pulled 25 times.

Interestingly, the Columbus Blue Jackets have also proven to be a Jones nemesis. He’s been pulled three times in just seven starts against the Blue Jackets.

He been pulled twice against Calgary, St. Louis and Tampa Bay, and once against 11 other teams.

Is this meaningless trivia or does Vegas really have Jones’s number?