The San Jose Sharks enter the All-Star break in a three-team race for the Pacific Division and have benefited from the play of three forwards.
Separation came for the San Jose Sharks after a seven-game win streak kept the team within striking distance of claiming the Pacific Division. Both the Calgary Flames and Las Vegas Golden Knights are also in contention, which will make for an entertaining stretch in the second half.
For the Sharks, winning the division is not necessarily the primary objective. Back in 2016, San Jose did not win the division but ended up in the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in franchise history.
A complete meltdown will have to occur for the Sharks to fall out of the playoff picture, which is unlikely. The focus for coach Peter DeBoer now is to have consistent play from all four lines and have the Sharks enter the postseason playing their best hockey.
In the past 11 games, the Sharks went 8-3-0 which included wins over the league-best Tampa Bay Lightning, Vegas, and the Pittsburgh Penguins. A letdown performance put a halt to San Jose’s streak at seven against the Arizona Coyotes. The Sharks avoided entering the break with four straight losses after some late heroics to pull out a 7-6 overtime win over the Washington Capitals.
From the recent span since the turn of the new year, the Sharks put together an impressive string of victories. As a result, many have picked San Jose to be Stanley Cup contenders. A big reason for the recent success is the line of Evander Kane, Tomas Hertl, and Joonas Donskoi.
Hertl appears to finally be living up to his potential after the debate if the forward should play on the wing or be a center. One issue for the Sharks entering training camp was the center position. Hertl has been placed as a centerman in the past with mixed results.
His emergence from the last games is a welcomed sight for the coaching staff and Hertl’s teammates. Injuries plagued the young forward since winning a roster spot out of training camp in the 2013-14 season.
Now, confidence is gleaming from the 25-year-old, as Hertl is playing physical and displaying the mental toughness to make good plays. Hertl has tallied eight goals and four assists over his last nine appearances. Perhaps his best performance came after outmatching Alex Ovechkin‘s hat trick with one of his own, which included the game winner in overtime.
If Hertl can continue his strong play upon returning from the break, the four-year contract he signed in the offseason will be a bargain for general manager Doug Wilson. Hopefully, he can stay healthy and not suffer any significant injuries.
A dry spell in Kane’s production made him almost, at times, a non-factor on the ice. A player who said he could be a 30-goal scorer, the hard-nosed style he brought from last season did not show during his struggles to find the net.
After being put on the line with Hertl, the forward is finding his groove again and is on pace to reach the 30-goal mark. He has 21 on the campaign, ten of the goals coming from the recent stretch.
Kane proved in Washington that hockey is a 60-minute game and every second count. With a second left on the clock, Kane managed to slide the puck across the line to tie the game at six goals apiece.
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As fortunate as the play wa, the puck could have bounced in any direction after Joe Pavelski desperately threw the puck towards the net. To the relief of the Sharks’ bench and those on the ice, good fortunes fell in their favor courtesy of Kane.
Finally, Donskoi appears to be comfortable playing alongside Kane and Hertl, posting five goals and one assist since the new year began. He may not be finding the scoresheet as frequently, but all three have been lethal with the chemistry they’ve developed. More could be done by Donskoi, who could be expendable after the year.
Speaking of expendability, Wilson will certainly make a move before the trade deadline to help bolster the bottom lines. The Sharks have added a veteran forward capable of providing stability to the third or fourth line in recent years.
Kevin Labanc could be a trade chip as the forward has not played to expectations. The power play is a strength with the offense he has produced but has been weak in the neutral and defensive zones.
For now, the All-Star break is coming at a much-needed time for the Sharks after the injury bug kept significant contributors off the rink. Erik Karlsson missed the last three games from a leg injury and is doubtful for the All-Star festivities in San Jose.
Marc-Edouard Vlasic is near a return after leaving the game against Colorado. Despite missing one of the best shut down defensemen in the NHL and lineup, the six defenders dressed have played well in his absence. Health is an area of mystery surrounding Vlasic after a disappointing first half for him.
San Jose currently boasts one of the best lines in the NHL with the magic Kane, Hertl, and Donskoi is creating. With another trip to the Stanley Cup Playoffs likely to occur, this line will be crucial for the Sharks to make a deep run.
Note from the author: In loving memory of my grandmother who passed away last week. She loved reading my articles and I will miss sharing them with her.