SAN JOSE – The Sharks went into the All-Star break with a 4-1 loss to Edmonton on Thursday, but they have to be pleased with where they are in the standings. There are some things to fix, but the club is in great position to defend its Western Conference championship when the unofficial second half begins next Tuesday against Chicago.
In the meantime, here are three takeaways from the Oilers game…
1 – Hertl's return
Tomas Hertl's stat line doesn't exactly leap off the page, as the 23-year-old didn't register a shot on goal in 17 minutes and 22 seconds of ice time. Still, just getting him back in the lineup for a game before the break is a positive development. He also gave the top line some life, particularly in the first period.
"First period was probably our strongest as far as chances and having [the puck]," Joe Pavelski said. "It's not easy coming back from an injury like that. I thought he gave us good minutes. Had the puck and was looking confident out there with it. It's something definitely to build on."
Hertl said admitted that his "lungs [were] burning, and his legs," and thought he could have been stronger around the net. Overall, he called his game "not bad, but I'm sad because we lost tonight."
Pete DeBoer said on Thursday morning that long-term goal is to get Hertl back in the middle, but I wonder if he stays on that top line for a few games longer. If there are two players that look like they really need a jolt, it's Pavelski (one goal in his last 10 games) and Joe Thornton (five points in his last 13 games). Maybe reuniting that previously effective trio can help get them all going again.
2 – New power play units coming?
Not to harp on the power play woes, which we got into with last night's recap, but the units that DeBoer and Steve Spott put out there for that long four-minute advantage were unique, to say the least.
To start the advantage, it was the second line (Logan Couture, Mikkel Boedker and Patrick Marleau) with Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic on the points. Later, it was the Thornton-Pavelski-Hertl line, with David Schlemko and Paul Martin. The Sharks managed four shots over those four minutes, looking better than they did in their first two power plays.
"We had a couple looks out there. It was a few tips, a few shots," Pavelski said. "It doesn't matter who's out there, we're pretty confident in each other."
Burns gave the Oilers penalty killers some credit.
"They have a good kill, pressure hard," he said. "The difference is so small every night. Tonight was no different. You've got to combat that with good communication and quick plays. It's not easy. You can always be better and work on things, but that's hockey. If it's easy, everybody would do it, huh?"
The guess here is that DeBoer reverts back to his familiar top unit on Tuesday, but if Thursday's game was any indication, his patience is wearing thin – as it should be.
3 – Oilers a legitimate challenger
It's probably safe to say at this point that the Oilers are primed to make the playoffs, and there's a very good chance that they play the Sharks in the first round. Edmonton, like San Jose, has an 11-point cushion over fourth place Calgary.
"Obviously they're young with a lot of speed and skill," Patrick Marleau said. "I think they've added some pieces in the offseason, a little bit more grit on the wings, back end got a little bit better. They're hanging in there, and they're right up there."
Pavelski said: "They've had a really good season. I don't think we've thought otherwise. We knew it was going to be a tough game, but we didn't take it lightly."