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Sharks Without Hertl for Game 3

(Originally published at Sports Radio Service)

SAN JOSE–Sharks head coach Pete DeBoer has confirmed that Tomas Hertl will not play in Saturday’s Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final. He described Hertl’s injury as a lower body one. Of Hertl’s performance so far, DeBoer said:

He’s arguably been our best player for the first two games but injuries are no excuse this time of year, we’ve got someone who will go in for him and we’ll roll out there and be ready to play.

As for who will draw into the lineup, there is little mystery. When Matt Nieto returned to the lineup for Game 2, Dainius Zubrus was the odd man out. He will most likely be back in. On the subject of who will play in Hertl’s spot on the top line with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski, DeBoer said:

We’ve got a couple guys that’ve played in that hole before. Melker has before, and so has [Zubrus] played there before. I think the one thing that those two guys… you’ve got a guy that’ll hound the puck and work for it. Those two guys pretty much take care of the rest. I think we’ve got a lot of options there because of who we’re sticking them in with and I think it should be fairly seamless.

Sharks captain Joe Pavelski also weighed in on how Hertl has contributed to the team in the playoffs:

He’s been a big part of this team, especially the second half. You saw the smile on his face the last few rounds. He’s really enjoyed playing, he brings that energy. It’s tough to miss a guy like that if you have to. But somebody steps in, we’ve done it, we’ve done it for a while. We still expect a great effort from whoever comes in in a good role. We haven’t had a ton of injuries so there’s been somebody always ready to step in.

A the dust settles from Logan Couture’s comments on faceoffs, there remains the fact that the Sharks have not been very good in the faceoff circle. Among playoff teams, they have consistently been at the bottom in faceoff win percentage. It begs the question, what does the team do to still win the game, or 12 games, despite rarely starting with the puck? Logan Couture explained: “Get it back right away, put it in good places so we can forecheck and hold on to the puck in their end. There’s a few things you can do off a faceoff or forecheck that can turn the puck over.” So far, the Sharks have not been able to do any of those things very well against the Penguins. They will get another chance tonight.

Something else they will get a chance to do tonight is get back to their game. Apart from moving the puck quicker with simpler plays, thereby improving their execution, their forwards could probably backcheck more aggressively. Some time ago, I asked Sharks defenseman Paul Martin what it is about the Sharks that make them effective defensively:

[Jones]’s playing the puck, our forwards come back and support us and we rely on them to get out of the zone. I think everyone’s capable on our d-corps. When Roman [Polak] came over he kind of solidified that last pair and Brenden Dillon’s had  a break out year and he’s been great and he continues to improve. And the top four have been around for a while now as far as that experience. With [Vlasic] obviously, he’s a world class player, along with [Burns] they can bring something else that a lot of guys can’t.

I think we all can skate and get around the ice, and the ability to make that first pass out of the zone is big and I think we all understand the way we want to play. I we all get along and so that’s big. The chemistry that we have is important too.

Ironically, the formula Martin described there, with the forwards being as crucial to defense as defensemen are, pretty well describes how the Penguins have been playing. One has to wonder if it is even possible for two teams to play that way at the same time, or if they must first defuse their opponent’s arsenal.

The fact that Pete DeBoer has been here before, with the New Jersey Devils against the Los Angeles Kings, can only give fans so much comfort: his team forced a Game 6 but did not win the series. Is he hunting with a bigger boat this time?

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