SAN JOSE – Sharks rookie Tomas Hertl is nowhere close to returning to the ice.
On Sunday, after an optional practice, Todd McLellan termed Hertl as being in the “infant stages of rehab” from a right knee injury suffered on a collision with the Kings’ Dustin Brown on Dec. 19.
Brown, of course, is just fine. The Kings captain will be playing the Sharks on Monday for the first time since the controversial play, when he was given a major penalty for kneeing and game misconduct for drilling the Sharks’ 2012 first round draft pick, who at the time was probably the front runner for the NHL’s Calder Trophy as rookie of the year.
The two teams, which battled to a seven-game playoff series last May, didn’t like one another before the Hertl-Brown incident. That’s even truer now as they prepare to meet at SAP Center on Monday.
“Intensified it a bit, I think,” Tommy Wingels said of the rivalry. “We weren’t happy, and I certainly wasn’t with the way things were handled, and the play itself.”
The Sharks didn’t respond well after the hit, which occurred with a minute to go in the first period of a scoreless game, going on to lose, 4-1. They failed to capitalize on the ensuing three-minute power play (Brent Burns’ interference minor nullified the first two minutes of the advantage), and the Kings took over from there. Only Patrick Marleau’s late third period goal prevented a shutout.
And, although they couldn’t have any words with Brown since he was kicked out of the game, there wasn’t any sense that the Sharks were trying to exact any physical revenge on the Kings for taking out their emerging star.
“There are different ways of sticking up for your teammates,” said Wingels, who had 11 hits in that game. “We’ve always said here, one way of doing that is capitalizing on the power play that ensues. That affects their team. They don’t want to take liberties if they’re going to get scored on.
“That being said, this team is capable of sticking up for each other, and has shown that, I think. Can you do it immediately? In that situation, he’s kicked out of the game. It’s tough to really have something happen there. Yeah, you can go take a run at one of their skilled guys, but you’ve got to be smart about it. Be within the rules. If something happens, it does, but we’re really focused on winning the game and continuing our streak of getting points here.”
The Sharks have been able to overcome the loss of Hertl, and later Logan Couture to a hand injury. San Jose is 13-4-0 since falling to the Kings that night, and has won seven of nine games since Couture went out, including six in a row.
Los Angeles has struggled, and is now a full 10 points behind the Sharks in the standings. The Kings’ 3-0 defeat to Anaheim at Dodger Stadium on Saturday night was their fifth straight, including the last four in regulation.
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“We obviously didn’t want to lose Tomas that night,” McLellan said. “It’s happened, and we’ve been able to move on. That’s not the only injury we’ve been able to overcome, obviously Logan and a few others.
“Sometimes when injuries occur it can galvanize a team, it can bring a group together. We narrow our focus a little bit more, and guys have done that.”
Marc-Edouard Vlasic is confident that some role players getting more ice time and increased responsibilities will help the Sharks in the long run, as they welcome players like Couture and Raffi Torres back into the lineup at some point.
“It will. We’ll probably have a lot of guys coming back after the Olympic break, but there are a lot of young guys, a lot of older veteran guys that are taking more of a role and taking more ice time, and the younger guys have been doing a great job,” Vlasic said. “There are a lot of guys stepping up, and it will help in the long run that we have some depth going into the playoffs.”
McLellan said: “When you do win with people out of the lineup, your mindset goes to ‘maybe it will be a good thing,’ because players are getting a bit of a rest and should be fresh coming off the Olympic break, and be ready to go for the push.”
That’s more than a month away, of course. On Monday, Brown and the Kings will be the focus in what should be another highly intense battle between a pair of teams in which there is no love lost.
“It creates a good game,” Vlasic said. “We’ve played them in the playoffs last year, and I thought the two teams hated each other, with respect. Don’t like playing each other, but those games create rivalry and create a great game. It should be the same [Monday].”
And, as for retaliation?
“I don’t know. Don’t ask me that. Ask other guys that,” Vlasic said. “I’m going to play hard. We’re going to win the game for Hertl, that’s what we’ll do. There’s nothing you can do now but play hard, and win the game for him.”