Playoff Power Rankings Week 2: Hertl Power

Wait, does that say Martin Jones? What is this?

Welcome to Fear the Fin’s weekly(ish) player power rankings. Who had the biggest impact, the best goals or the prettiest smile in the week that was and who you should totally grab off of waivers in your fantasy league to stick it to Derek in accounts receivable. All rankings subject to the whims of fate and whatever we’re feeling in the moment, postseason power rankings are prone to being particularly mercurial.

The San Jose Sharks and Vegas Golden Knights are going to Game 7.

There were a lot of things to talk about this week that I vacillated on in regards to the intro to this column. How has officiating affected this year’s NHL playoffs as a whole? Is there a trend with teams like the Calgary Flames and Winnipeg Jets failing to show urgency in elimination games? Has the NHL’s parity gone to a new extreme, with only one higher seed advancing to the second round so far (the New York Islanders over the Pittsburgh Penguins), and only one higher seed leading their series (the Washington Capitals lead the Carolina Hurricanes)? What do the individual awards nominees so far say about the Professional Hockey Writers Association’s criteria and voting process? What does the success of the aggressive Colorado Avalanche, Golden Knights, and Columbus Blue Jackets do to future trade deadlines?

Most importantly, though: Who cares?

The grind of 82 games, the continuous record-breaking of Joe Thornton, the emergence into stardom of Timo Meier, Tomas Hertl, Kevin Labanc, the blockbuster acquisition of Erik Karlsson, the less blockbuster acquisitions of Gustav Nyquist and of Micheal Haley, the descent into madness of Martin Jones, and his eerily appropriate resurrection on Easter night, the constant fatalism and hand-wringing of all of us Sharks fans at every lineup decision and roster choice, all of that has led to one game.

One game that will decide so much more than whether or not the Sharks play the Colorado Avalanche next week. It will decide the futures of Thornton, Karlsson, Joe Pavelski and others. It will decide the team building strategies of expansion teams going forward. It will decide, again, whether this Sharks core can win when it matters most. It will decide what this entire all-in year means and, hopefully, it will not be the last time those decisions are on the table.

One game, one night, here in San Jose, where it all started.

The San Jose Sharks and Vegas Golden Knights are going to Game 7.

1. Tomas Hertl

TimeGames PlayedGoalsAssistsPointsPrimary PointsPenalty MinutesShots on Goal5v5 adj Corsi for %
This week3303301237.19

Who else?

With his shorthanded tally just 91:17 into Sunday’s Game 6 in Las Vegas, Hertl made good on his “guarantee” that the Sharks would return home for a do-or-die Game 7 on Tuesday. Hertl led the team in points and goals this week, when both were apparently hard to come by. The Sharks scored just seven goals in 10.5 periods of hockey this week, a total that we’ve come to expect would not be enough to compensate for the team’s problems in net. As we’ll learn later in this very piece, though, that problem seems to have been, at least temporarily, solved.

Of note here, other than a great outlet pass/clear from Marc-Edouard Vlasic, is Hertl’s decision to shoot on net rather than dump in for a much-needed change. Rationalizing that the puck may deflect off of defenseman Shea Theodore’s stick and create an unpredictable shot, Hertl opted to fire and, apparently summoning 2012 Marc-Andre Fleury for a split second, sneaked a puck in under the veteran’s blocker. After guaranteeing the fans that they Sharks would be returning home for Game 7, it seems particularly fitting that Hertl would secure the win last night.

2. Logan Couture

TimeGames PlayedGoalsAssistsPointsPrimary PointsPenalty MinutesShots on Goal5v5 adj Corsi for %
This week3202201245.24

Last week: 4

The prevailing theory before last night’s roller coaster seemed to be that the Sharks would have to continually sacrifice teeth to the hockey gods if they wanted to continue to win games in this postseason. Logan Couture stepped up to the plate in Game 5 and, with his team facing elimination, gamely chomped down onto Jonathan Marchessault’s stick with vigor. That’s not exactly what happened, but it seemed to work. Couture’s two goals, both early in elimination games, helped set a tone for a team that had to have been tired of playing from behind so much.

What likely made this shot work was Couture’s decision to change the angle of his shot more to the outside before releasing. Couture used the heel of his stick to push the puck just a few feet farther outside the slot, forcing Fleury to scoot to his right to stay square. That movement opened up just enough room on the far side of the net for Couture to launch the puck past Fleury, and set the tone for Game 6. Well, the tone tended to change in the opposite direction as soon as the puck dropped for the second period, but at least it was 1-0 by then.

3. Tomas Hertl

TimeGames PlayedGoalsAssistsPointsPrimary PointsPenalty MinutesShots on Goal5v5 adj Corsi for %
This week3303301237.19

Seriously, this kid is amazing. In an interview with Jamie Baker after the Sharks won Game 5 in San Jose, Hertl guaranteed the fans that they would see a Game 7 in San Jose because “we’re a better team than them.” Knowing that his word and bond were on the line last night may be what powered the young Czech to fire that fateful shot in double overtime and continue the Sharks’ season. You can’t prove that it isn’t.

Hert’s first goal of Game 5 was a beauty, and it’s similarity to Couture’s opening tally in Game 6 is striking. Are the Sharks purposefully shooting far side on Fleury? If so, it’s working, and Hertl’s ability to overpower the persistent stick of William Karlsson on his way into the zone is what led to him getting such a clear shot, such as it was, in the first place. If the Sharks can pull of the huge upset and come out of this series alive, credit will be due to Tomas Hertl.

4. Martin Jones

TimeGames PlayedRecordShots AgainstGoals AllowedSv%GAA5v5 Sv%HDSv%5v5 GSAA
This Week32-1985.9491.75.967.9052.69

No one ever told us that crow was so delicious. Martin Jones’ performance last night was nothing short of transcendent. Before Game 6, Jones had posted an .866 save percentage and a goals-against average of 4.37 in the playoffs, and had been pulled twice. Then Game 6 started, and Jones set a new franchise record for saves in a game, stopping 58 of 59 shots  (the previous record 57, set by Jeff Hackett in 1992) in a game in which his counterparts only managed to put 29 on Fleury at the other end. No other way to see this: Martin Jones stole Game 6.

This save isn’t from Game 6, but the way that Jones was moving after the first period last night was reminiscent of some of his best performances. This save from Game 5 was a great example of what Jones does well, when he does well. Jones tends to struggle when he is overreacting, pushing too hard off of a post or failing to dig a skate into the ice when pushing farther out from the net. When he’s at his best, he moves minimally, and this save on Smith exemplifies that. Jones put exactly as much force into his push right as was necessary to cover the post, and what that got him was on of the series’ better stops on one of its better scorers.

5. Seriously, you guys, Tomas friggin’ Hertl, right?

TimeGames PlayedGoalsAssistsPointsPrimary PointsPenalty MinutesShots on Goal5v5 adj Corsi for %
This week3303301237.19

Cannot get enough of this sweet boy.

There may be nothing better to grace a television screen after the emotional endeavor we all experienced last night than the smiling face of a 6-foot-2, 220 pound man-child who just ensured the continuation of his very fun career. Hertl is a joy to watch because of the joy he clearly feels playing this game, and in that way he’s more than a little reminiscent of one of his mentors, Joe Thornton. The game loves he who loves the game, and Hertl probably loves the game more than any of us do.

Games 7 are a lot of things. They’re the best thing in hockey, to be sure, but for fans of the participating teams, they’re often stressful, sickening, unpleasant experiences. Let that fear and illness sit in the back of the cognitive car for one more day, though. Today, look at that smile on Hertl’s face and be glad that, at least once more, there’s Sharks hockey tomorrow.

Go Sharks.

Hono(u)rable mentions

Joe Thornton: Again this week, Thornton’s line was the most consistently dangerous. While the Knights were double-shifting Mark Stone, the Sharks were just letting Jumbo do his thing, creating chances and havoc every shift.

Reilly Smith: With San Jose’s focus on the Stone line, Vegas’ top line got to work this week, and Smith seems to be driving the bus for that trio’s production. We all knew the Knights had a particularly wicked top-six, and have been lucky that only half of them seem to have come to play each night.

Tomas Hertl: Seriously, what a good lad, hey?