Player Power Rankings Week 18: On Hertl Ground

Grow the seeds of victory — Wilson 3:16.

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.

Now that the festivities of San Jose’s All-Star weekend have subsided, it’s time for the Sharks to start gearing up for the stretch run. We’re going back in time today to check out the past two weeks of Sharks hockey, but it’s only three games, so don’t fret.

With a 2-1-0 record through those three games, the Sharks, at the very least, ended their stretch of four straight games in which they allowed six goals. However, the Sharks’ ability to win even one of those games, a wild 7-6 over time affair against the Washington Capitals last week, was powered in no small part by the revelatory combination of Evander Kane, Tomas Hertl and Joonas Donskoi. While that trio has helped the Sharks weather the loss of two of their top defensemen, they seem to have only gotten one of the blueliners back.

Marc-Edouard Vlasic returned to the Sharks’ line up on Saturday night against the Arizona Coyotes and was thrust right back into the deep end, playing almost 24 minutes at even strength, a team-leading 6:27 on the penalty kill, and spending a plurality of his minutes getting caved in by the ‘Yotes top line of Nick Cousins, Alex Galchenyuk and Clayton Keller. Was tasking Vlasic with shutting down the opposition’s top line in his first game back after missing ten overwhelming for the defenseman? Did Deboer think that it would be best to acclimate Vlasic to his historically difficult role or did the coach not consider Nick Cousins to be a representative sample of the NHL’s best?

Either way, Vlasic seemed to struggle, and we hope that, when the Sharks’ other missing blueliner, Erik Karlsson, returns to the lineup, the Sharks will establish some stability on the back end. With the Calgary Flames six points ahead of them for first place in the Pacific division, the Sharks will have to be better than average to win out, and winning the division will be no small boon to the club that pulls it off.

Until then, let’s all bask in the good times of times past, the Sharks pulled four points out of three games in which they allowed 14 goals, and that is no small feat.

1. Tomas Hertl

TimeGames PlayedGoalsAssistsPointsPrimary PointsPenalty MinutesShots on Goal5v5 adj Corsi for %
This Week332550944.11

Last week: 2

In San Jose’s bizarre 7-6 win over the Caps last week, Hertl scored his second hat trick in five games, and the second hat trick of that evening, after Alex Ovechkin potted three earlier in the night. Hertl’s recent dominance is part of a massive season for the young Czech, as his 46 points in 48 games is fifth on the team, and his 3.06 points per 60 minutes played is second. Adding an assist this weekend at home against the Coyotes was gravy, as the center now boasts five points in his last two games.

On the way to his overtime heroics, Hertl gained the zone slowly in the extra frame. As soon as he passed the puck to the trailing Logan Couture, notice how Hertl angled his skates and hips to open his body for the give-and-go pass, especially as defender Dmitri Orlov over-commits to Couture as a shooting threat. Couture passes the puck back, as Hertl clearly expected, and Orlov is in no position to prevent the Czech from taking his shot. Hertl’s shot breezes by Braden Holtby to put an end to a truly wild night.

2. Brent Burns

TimeGames PlayedGoalsAssistsPointsPrimary PointsPenalty MinutesShots on Goal5v5 adj Corsi for %
This Week3145242056.64

Last week: 5

Somehow, Brent Burns has turned it up again. Routinely leading his team and his league in shots and in shot attempts, Burns’ 20 shots in the Sharks’ last three games is a step up, even for him. Burns leads the league in that small sample (three team games), four shots ahead of Evander Kane’s 16, and five ahead of Carolina’s Nino Niederreiter. Burns leads the Sharks in shots, shot attempts and points, but he’s in this week’s ranking primarily because of the power and finesse on display for his overtime winner on Saturday night.

Burns’ overtime winner was the 13th of his career, tying Scott Niedermayer for the most overtime goals by a defenseman in NHL history. It seems obvious to assume that Burns will shatter that record, probably later this season. This clip serves as almost as effective a showcase of Hertl as Burns, as the former’s block in the neutral zone, and hurdle leap over a fallen Richard Panik are key contributor’s to the eventual goal. Still, Burns’ strength and speed were both on display here, as was his ambition. As soon as Burns received the puck from a cycling Hertl, he cut toward the net, shifting his substantial weight onto his left foot to avoid what could have been a dangerous knee-on-knee check from Panik. Burns still had the presence of mind to tuck the puck back onto his backhand to avoid a poke checking Darcy Kuemper, and scoot it over the goal line from a near-horizontal position.

Burns may make some frustrating plays on the other side of the puck, but plays like this one remind us of what a special player he is.

3. Joe Pavelski

TimeGames PlayedGoalsAssistsPointsPrimary PointsPenalty MinutesShots on Goal5v5 adj Corsi for %
This Week324640858.07

The captain of the Sharks may have taken a step back from the spotlight over All-Star weekend, ceding the podium to larger personalities like Burns, Auston Matthews and Gritty.  The regular season ice is where Joe Pavelski shines, and his six points in the Sharks’ last three games leads the team. Pavelski’s four points in Washington contribute to that figure to an outsized degree, but, with one point in each game before and after that contest, the captain has a tidy three-game streak intact. Little Joe leads the team in goals, and in ice time among forwards, continuing to serve his role as the squad’s vanguard.

Pavelski has always made the preponderance of his impact on a game within a few feet of the net, but it has almost always been the opponent’s net. In Florida, Pavelski helped Martin Jones out of a bit of a jam, as his stick barely beat that of a diving Aleksander Barkov to prevent a Panthers goal in what was, at the time, still a tied game. Pavelski’s speed and heads up play was what kept the Sharks in the game, and Jones probably owed him a dinner or two later that night.

4. Evander Kane

TimeGames PlayedGoalsAssistsPointsPrimary PointsPenalty MinutesShots on Goal5v5 adj Corsi for %
This Week32022201650.42

Last week: 1

Kane’s impact on the Sharks’ offense has only increased in the past few weeks, and his presence and offensive persistence was particularly on display Saturday night, creating danger and havoc almost every shift. Despite committing a double minor high-sticking penalty in Florida that led directly to two Panther goals, Kane earns a spot in the ranking this week for his heroics the very next night. With one second left on the clock, Kane batted in a loose puck, tying the game at six and sending the Sharks and Capitals to overtime.

Kane’s second of the night couldn’t have come much later. While all of the attention in the building turned to Pavelski firing a low percentage shot from the half wall, Kane was able to sneak in behind the Caps’ defensive pressure and benefit from a fortunate bounce right onto his stick. Any goal that needs to be reviewed to ensure that it crossed the line before the buzzer is an exciting goal, and Kane’s capped off the regulation time for what will be one of the more exciting games this season. I hope.

5. Timo Meier

TimeGames PlayedGoalsAssistsPointsPrimary PointsPenalty MinutesShots on Goal5v5 adj Corsi for %
This Week314542857.1

The Sharks’ favorite young Swiss man-child, Timo Meier, has been quiet on the score sheet before this week, scoring his last goal against the Dallas Stars back on Dec. 13. He put up ten points in the 17 games since then — no small task — but less that we’ve come to expect from the former first round pick. He’s heating up lately, though, with a goal and six points in his last four games, finally getting the proverbial monkey off of his proverbial back in Sunrise. If Meier’s play on Saturday is any indication, he’s not lost any momentum over the long break, and his position as the team’s third leading point scorer is clearly no fluke.

Meier’s ability to read plays was on display here, as he glanced up to see Burns charging the slot before reaching out to receive the puck. Note, also, that Meier reached out for the puck to bring it back for that nifty pass, instead of moving his feet to continue a cycle in the corner. The latter is probably what the Panthers’ defense would have expected, leading to a great scoring chance down low for Burns.

Hono(u)rable Mentions

Joe Thornton: With an assist on Kevin Labanc’s goal on Saturday, Thornton recorded his 999th point as a San Jose Shark. It’s just milestone after milestone for this guy at this point, what a player.

Logan Couture: Couture’s three points against the Caps helped boost him to 48 on the season in 53 games. On a team with this many stars, Logan’s production is easy to forget.

Alex Ovechkin: With a hat trick against the Sharks last week, Ovechkin leads the NHL in goals by six. He’s 33 years old. A living legend of the game. Enjoy this player for the next few years, because we’ll all be telling our grandchildren we saw him in action.