SAN JOSE -- Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer thought Tomas Hertl's series-clinching goal on Wednesday, in the midst of the best season of his five-year NHL career, was a long time coming.
"He would've gotten to this level earlier than this year if he had been healthy," DeBoer said after San Jose swept the Anaheim Ducks out of the first round with a 2-1 win in Game 4. "He's had some really bad luck with some really bad injuries. He's healthy and he's playing at another level, and I still think he's got another level he can get to, too."
Hertl deflected Marc-Edouard Vlasic's point shot through Ducks goaltender John Gibson's legs for the game-winner with 10:51 remaining in regulation, and just over a minute after Anaheim tied the game. As NBC Sports California statistician Darin Stephens noted, it was the Czech forward's second career game-winning goal in the postseason.
For #SJSharks Tomas Hertl, it was his 2nd career playoff game-winning goal. His other came in Game 3 of the 2016 2nd Round vs Blues. #ANAvsSJS #StanleyCup Playoffs— Darin Stephens (@SharksStats) April 19, 2018
Since entering the league in 2013-14, Hertl's tied for 37th with 22 game-winning goals in the regular season and playoffs, according to STATS. Only Joe Pavelski (32) and Logan Couture (23) have more during that time, and Hertl's played 85 fewer games than Pavelski, and 26 than Couture.
Were it not for recurring right knee issues that caused him to miss 45 games his rookie season, cut short his Stanley Cup Final in 2016, and forced him to miss another 33 last year, he'd almost certainly be higher on the list.
Five-on-five, only 11 players that played a minimum of 500 minutes have generated expected goals (xG), or shot attempts that account for quality, at a higher rate than Hertl (0.95 xG/60, according to Corsica Hockey) since he entered the league. If you include the postseason, he jumps into the top 10.
DeBoer's right to think Hertl can reach another level, too. The 25-year-old's 21 non-empty-net goals matched a career-high, no player underperformed their expected goals total across all situations more than Hertl, as Sean Tierney of HockeyGraphs and The Athletic pointed out.
Biggest xG underperformers
Hertl managed 21 but should've had ~33 goals. Skinner managed 24 and should've had 31. Lucic makes an appearance. pic.twitter.com/e0WHgBtCav— Sean Tierney (@ChartingHockey) April 9, 2018
With health back on Hertl's side, DeBoer doesn't see this as the young forward finally maximizing his potential. Instead, the head coach thinks Hertl is just beginning to reach it.
"This wasn't about anyone pushing him…[He's] been healthy and he's starting to find the level that he's capable of being at, I think, for a long career."