Hertl slowly progressing for game readiness
Labanc’s confidence and easing the burden on Suomela’s shoulders
SAN JOSE – Pete Deboer is back at the white board, drawing up new line combinations to absorb the potential loss of a top-sharks forward.
Tomas Hertl, who left Saturday’s win over the Philadelphia Flyers with a head injury, missed practice Monday, forcing the Sharks coach to go back into the laboratory and rejigger his lines after he’d just found a working formula in the wake of Joe Thornton’s reintegration into the lineup.
Deboer labeled Hertl’s status as “day to day.” He doesn’t think the injury is serious.
“I mean, you never know with those things,” the Sharks coach acknowledged. “You can always have setbacks, but it doesn’t look like it right now.”
Hertl left Saturday’s game at 7:36 of the second period after his head collided with the shoulder of Flyers defenseman Christian Folin in the offensive zone. Deboer doesn’t think the hit to the head was intentional and worthy of discipline from the league.
“I talked to Tommy, Tommy took the blame for it himself. He thought he shouldn’t have made that type of move there,” Deboer said. “When I looked at it, I thought the guy stepped into him. I didn’t think it was high. Those things happen. It’s a contact sport.”
With Hertl sidelined Monday, Kevin Labanc filled his spot on the Logan Couture-timo Meier line where he finished the Flyers game. Deboer kept Couture, Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton on separate lines, a three-pronged attacked that propelled the Sharks to victory in the last two periods Saturday.
The Sharks struggled to find the right line mix in losses to the New York Rangers and the Columbus Blue Jackets last week after Thornton rejoined the lineup Tuesday. His move to third line center in the second period Saturday gave the Sharks the multi-line attack they’d lacked earlier in the week.
On Monday, Thornton skated with Barclay Goodrow and Marcus Sorensen on the third line. Antti Suomela, Rourke Chartier and Melker Karlsson filled out the fourth line while Evander Kane and Joonas Donskoi skated with Pavelski up top.
“It’s part of what we deal with. You know that that stuff’s right around the corner,” Deboer said in reference to Hertl’s injury. “There’s no sense in wasting energy being frustrated by it. You’ve got to test your depth and it’s an opportunity for somebody else.”
But losing Hertl on an extended basis would be a significant loss.
On Saturday, Deboer acknowledged that the Hertlcouture-meier line has been the only combination that’s worked consistently this year. Couture is riding a career-best nine game point streak and Meier set a franchise record by opening the season with 11 goals in his first 14 games. Hertl is a key ingredient to making it happen because of the space he creates for his linemates.
“During this stretch, this line has been as hot as any line I’ve been on,” Couture said. “I think back to when Patty (Marleau) was here, he had a bunch of goals to start a season, but I haven’t seen a player score like Timo has. He’s been on fire.”
During his first year in San Jose, Deboer provided a glimpse into his coaching strategy. He said the art of coaching is knowing when to turn the screws and when to loosen them because a team or player is fragile.
With that in mind, it isn’t surprising that Deboer went out of his way to praise Labanc on a question about Meier Saturday night.
Labanc struggled mightily during the Sharks threegame road trip to Nashville, North Carolina and Orange County last month, leading to his demotion to the
Ifourth line in games against the Anaheim Ducks (Oct. 28) and the Rangers (Oct. 30).
Labanc was trying to do too much after recording just two points in eight games on a line with Pavelski and Kane. He made the problem worse by turning the puck over.
So after scoring a goal Thursday and setting up two Saturday, it makes sense that Deboer would deliver a positive message through the media. The Sharks will need a confident Labanc on the ice against the Minnesota Wild Tuesday if Hertl isn’t able to go.
“Young guys struggle with the ups and downs of that confidence maybe a little more,” Deboer said. “Those lulls last a little bit longer. That’s part of learning to be a pro is getting yourself out of those things quickly. On our end, we’ve tried to work him through it.”
Another benefit of Thornton’s move to the third line is that it should ease the burden on Suomela’s shoulders.
ISharks’ Tomas Hertl takes a shot against the N.Y. Rangers in the second period at the SAP Center in San Jose last Tuesday.