The San Jose Sharks won their first game of the season in a thriller against the Arizona Coyotes. The Sharks grabbed an early lead, but lost it in the dying minutes of the third. Luckily, they emerged victors in their first game in 10 months. However, in this 4-3 shootout win, one line stood out.
After recovering from knee surgery, Tomas Hertl surprised many in his first game back after nearly a year of recovering. He looked to be in good form in his season debut centering the second line. His first goal came on the power play and gave the Sharks an early lead. His second, with a few minutes remaining in the first period, came off a quality rebound from Coyotes goaltender Darcy Kuemper.
Hertl was also third on the Sharks in relative Corsi, which indicates how well a team controls the play when that player is on the ice. His relative Fenwick was 70%, meaning the team controlled over two-thirds of the game’s shot attempts when he was on the ice.
Hertl was a noticeable presence throughout the game and appears to have knocked off any rust he may have had while returning from injury. These early indications by the Czech center show he could return to his form in 2018-19, where he led Sharks forwards in points and performed just under a point-per-game pace.
Wingers Looked Solid Amid Doubt
Hertl’s second-line wingers, including a college standout and a player with off-ice issues, impressed despite the doubt surrounding them heading into their first game.
Starting with John Leonard, the rookie looked great in his NHL debut. He was a star in the NCAA, leading the league in goals with the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. Despite a Hobey Baker nomination, question marks surrounded him entering the season.
His status as an elite college goal scorer only came about in the most recent season, jumping from 16 goals in his sophomore year, to 27 in his junior year. However, he was solid in his 13 minutes of ice time, with two assists and offensive possession numbers similar to Hertl’s. This strongly indicates he is improving upon the success he saw in his final college season.
Evander Kane silenced any questions about his ability to play given his financial situation with a goal and three points in the season opener. He filed for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy recently, and some wondered if he should forgo the season to avoid being a distraction. However, he led the team in relative Corsi and Fenwick, controlling the Sharks’ offense at even strength.
Last season Kane led the Sharks in goals, and was second in points with 26 goals and 46 points, producing at a rate similar to 2018-19 where the Sharks were quite successful. If he is able to block out the off-ice issues and perform just as well if not better to his previous two seasons, Kane will be in store for a stellar season.
New First Line?
The “second line” started the third period, and was easily the Sharks’ best line of the game. This group dominated possession and offense, especially compared to the current first line of Logan Couture, Kane, and Kevin Labanc. While the sample size is small, Hertl, Kane, and Leonard established themselves as a dynamic line that can easily succeed offensively, and helped the Sharks to their first win of the season.
In the the 2019-20 season, the Sharks were desperate to find a true top six winger to complement Hertl and Kane. This saw the likes of Lean Bergman and Danil Yurtaykin attempt to replace Joonas Donskoi, Gustav Nyquist, and Joe Pavelski. If Leonard can become a true top six winger that can supplement his great linemates, the team could have a legitimate top line on their roster.