Bad news on the Tomas Hertl front from Sharks coach Peter DeBoer: “He’s out tonight. Next man up for us.”
Hertl missed practice on Friday—it was casually described as “a maintenance day” at the time—so this isn’t a total shock. Still, it’s significant. He’s been San Jose’s most dangerous skater through the first two games of the Stanley Cup Final. Losing his size and intensity ahead of Game 3 (Saturday, 8:00 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVAS) puts the Sharks in a hole before the puck drops.
But as DeBoer noted, injuries are no excuse this time of year.
“We have somebody that will go in for him, will roll out there and be ready to play,” he said.
It’s likely that Dainius Zubrus, who was scratched in favor of Matt Nieto in Game 2, will draw back into the lineup. Who fills Hertl’s specific role though remains up in the air.
“We have a couple guys that played in that hole before,” DeBoer said. “Melker [Karlsson] has, so has Zubrus. [Both have] been effective. The one thing with those two guys is, you got a guy that will hound the puck and work for it. [Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski] 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. I think it should be fairly seamless.”
Unless someone clicks early, expect both Karlsson and Zubrus to see some time on the top line.
And while it’s hard to see now, there might be a bright side for the Sharks: The last team to rebound from an 0–2 deficit in the Stanley Cup Final, the 2011 Boston Bruins, lost first line winger Nathan Horton in Game 3. Boston rallied around the fallen player, and went on to win the Cup in seven.
Here are four other factors that could impact San Jose’s chances in this must-win Game 3:
Grabbing a lead
The Sharks have spoken repeatedly about the importance of playing their game as the route to getting back in this series. It’ll be a lot easier to follow up on that plan if they can grab a lead.
That hasn’t happened yet through 120-plus minutes of play. And all that time they’ve spent chasing the game has made it tough for the Sharks to settle into their comfort zone.
Grabbing any lead would be huge, but scoring first might be even more important—and not just because it would fuel a crowd that’s been waiting 25 years for this game.
The Sharks are 7–1 in these playoffs when scoring first at home, and 0–1 when they haven’t.
Take care of their own end
Despite the proximity of the score in the first two games, a straw DeBoer has repeatedly grasped at, there’s no doubt which team was superior. The Penguins dominated possession time and scoring chances in both games, and that allowed them to dictate the outcome.
To turn things around, the Sharks must spend more time with the puck. And that starts by taking care of their own end.
San Jose has struggled to gain possession first and foremost, and when they have, they’ve struggled to transition the puck through the neutral zone to give their offense a chance to set up. Pittsburgh has done a great job limiting both their time and their options, forcing a string of turnovers as San Jose’s defenders have crumbled under the pressure.
To counter that, the Sharks have to make faster decisions and better passes. Simple, but that’s where it all starts. If they can limit their mistakes and get the puck out of their zone under control, it’ll be their game to lose.
A big game from the big guns
The Penguins effectively silenced Thornton and Pavelski in Pittsburgh, but they’ll be hard pressed to keep them in check now that the series has switched to San Jose.
Home cooking has brought out the best in both of them throughout these playoffs, especially as they’ve dived deeper into the fray. Thornton comes into Game 3 looking to extend a six-game scoring streak (2-8-10) at SAP. Pavelski has been even better, tallying seven goals and 12 points over an eight-game home-scoring streak.
Both of them have feasted on the man advantage, but they’ve been better at five-on-five as well. With power plays few and far between to this point in the series, their ability to generate results at even strength will be critical.
But if they can force the Pens to take penalties...
This might be the tallest order. Through the first two games, Pittsburgh has played shorthanded just three times. That’s no fluke. The Penguins don’t take a lot of penalties because they always seem to have the puck. They’ve limited the opposition to a single power play opportunity in five of their past eight games and have been a man down just 16 times in total since the start of the Eastern Conference final.
That’s a big reason why San Jose’s offense is stuck in neutral. Eighteen of the 66 goals they’ve scored in the playoffs have come on the man-advantage. Take away their power play and you’ve diminished their attack by 27.3%.
The only way to get that back on track is more possession time.
“I think we’ve got to have the puck more,” DeBoer said. “I think we got to attack a little bit more. I think there’s penalties out there, I do believe that. I think there even has been in the first couple games. It seems like the players are going to get an opportunity to play here. Unless it’s blatant, you’re not going to get [the call]. So we’ve got to make sure that we’re attacking holes and making it so there’s no choice [for the officials] but to call them.”