Sharks' Hertl taking contact, getting closer to return

Sharks' Hertl taking contact, getting closer to return

SAN JOSE – Sharks center/forward Tomas Hertl has taken another step in his recovery from a right knee sprain and subsequent surgery.

The 23-year-old is now doing contract drills, and called himself “almost day-to-day now” on Saturday.

“Last two days I’m working on battles, and I feel pretty good,” Hertl said. “Everything is going right. Hopefully coming closer and closer to playing. … Just [need to be] more comfortable with battling, because skating and everything, I feel like 100 percent.”

Hertl didn’t completely shoot down a suggestion that he could play before the All-Star break, which begins on Friday, but indicated it’s more likely to be sometime after that. The Sharks resume their schedule on Jan. 31 against Chicago after next weekend’s breather.

“We want [to take] a little bit of time, more battles, a little bit more workouts,” Hertl said. “But, I think I’m pretty close. We’ll see how it goes the next couple days.”

The timeline has been fluid with Hertl, who was originally expected to miss “weeks” rather than months, general manager Doug Wilson said shortly after the injury on Nov. 17. On Jan. 5, a source with knowledge of Hertl’s status told CSN he was unlikely to play before mid-February, but it now appears he’ll be back sooner than that.

“Looks great,” coach Pete DeBoer said of Hertl. “I don't know if that's a testament to our group or his progress, but he looked fantastic out there. He's getting very close. We're starting to talk about him on a daily basis, which is a good sign."

Hertl suffered his knee injury during a game with St. Louis on Nov. 17 after what looked like a fairly innocent collision with the Blues’ Jori Lehtera, and underwent what Wilson termed a “minor procedure” on Nov. 22 designed to prevent further knee injuries from occurring. It was at least the third known procedure that Hertl has undergone on his right knee.

In 17 games, Hertl has nine points (4g, 5a).

NHL Gameday: Sharks host plummeting Avalanche, Nieto

NHL Gameday: Sharks host plummeting Avalanche, Nieto

Programming note – Sharks-Avalanche coverage starts today at 7:00 on CSN California with Sharks Pregame Live

WHERE THEY STAND

Sharks: 28-16-2, 58 points, 2nd Pacific Division
Avalanche: 13-29-1, 27 points, 7th Central Division

PREGAME NEWS AND NOTES

***Not only are the Avalanche buried in last place in the Central Division, but they are just 2-14-0 in their last 16 games, including losses in their last four. Colorado has not won a game in regulation since Dec. 11 in Toronto, getting just a pair of overtime wins since then.

The Sharks visit Pepsi Center on Monday for the second of a back-to-back. It should be four points in the bank, but, predictably that's not the approach they’re taking.

“You don’t look at where they’re at in the standings,” Logan Couture said. “They’ve got some very good players, some top end skill up front. So, we know it’s going to be a tough game. They can create a lot off the rush, those guys. It’s going to be a challenge.”

The Sharks have won three straight, and are 5-2-0 in their last seven.

Pete DeBoer said: “For me, this more of a mindset game. We've been playing some very solid hockey the last few games against some tough opponents, and we have to bring that mindset in here again tonight."

***In goal, Martin Jones will return after it was Aaron Dell in net for Thursday’s win over Tampa Bay.

The Sharks netminder has struggled after taking a game off, going 1-5-0 with a 2.85 goals-against average and .890 save percentage in six games. Last season, he was just 5-10-1 with a 2.54 GAA and .899 SP the game after not starting.

Colorado will go with Spencer Martin, who will be making his NHL debut. A third round pick in 2013, Martin is 15-9-2 with a 2.62 GAA and .915 SP in 27 games for San Antonio (AHL).

“Obviously, we don't want to make it easy on him,” DeBoer said. “We want to fire pucks and get traffic and get lots of action around the net, but we're not spending a whole lot of time on that.”

***The Sharks will ice their same lineup from Thursday, other than the goaltender change. Timo Meier remains out with an upper body injury.

KEEP AN EYE ON...

Sharks: Ryan Carpenter. The 26-year-old center opened the scoring in the Sharks’ win over Tampa Bay on Thursday, and is making his case to stay on roster at least while Tomas Hertl remains out. Carpenter, who has two goals, eight shots, and a plus-three rating in five games this season, will play in his third straight game tonight after getting recalled early in the week. 

Avalanche: Matt Nieto. After he was pushed out of the Sharks’ lineup, Matt Nieto was waived by San Jose and promptly claimed by Colorado on Jan. 5. Wearing his familiar uniform number 83, Nieto scored his first goal with the Avalanche on Tuesday against Chicago, and has two points and eight shots on goal in five games with his new team.

PROBABLE LINES

Sharks
Patrick Marleau – Joe Thornton – Joe Pavelski
Joonas Donskoi – Logan Couture – Mikkel Boedker
Kevin Labanc – Chris Tierney – Joel Ward
Melker Karlsson – Ryan Carpenter – Tommy Wingels

Paul Martin – Brent Burns
Marc-Edouard Vlasic – Justin Braun
Brenden Dillon – David Schlemko

Martin Jones (starter)
Aaron Dell

Avalanche
Mikko Rantanen – Nathan Mackinnon – Rene Bourque
Gabriel Landeskog – Matt Duchene – Matt Nieto
Blake Comeau – Carl Soderberg – Jarome Iginla
Joe Colborne – John Mitchell – Mikhail Grigorekno

Fedor Tyutin – Tyson Barrie
Cody Goloubef – Nikita Zadorov
Francois Beauchemin – Eric Gelinas

Spencer Martin (starter)
Calvin Pickard

INJURIES

Sharks: Timo Meier (upper body), Micheal Haley (lower body), Dylan DeMelo (broken wrist) and Tomas Hertl (right knee sprain) are out.

Avalanche: Semyon Varlamov (groin) and Erik Johnson (broken fibula) are out.

QUOTEABLE

“It’s a bittersweet moment. Selfishly, you’re upset that you’re not going to be on the same team as him anymore and you’re not going to see him every day, but the other part of you is happy for him because he’s going to get an opportunity somewhere.”– Logan Couture, on Matt Nieto getting claimed by Avalanche earlier this month.

While many bristle over NHL's new bye week rule, Sharks wait their turn

While many bristle over NHL's new bye week rule, Sharks wait their turn

SAN JOSE – Nearly everyone in the NHL is in agreement that this season’s schedule is rough. The World Cup in September pushed the start of the regular season back about a week, and combined with the institution of the new bye week, as requested by the NHLPA, it’s meant more games in fewer days for every team.

Where opinions diverge, though, is whether the bye week is a good idea. 

Just this week, Flyers general manager Ron Hextall called it “the most asinine thing I’ve ever seen.” Kings head coach Darryl Sutter, when asked if he liked it, said: “No, no, no, no. … It’s been an awful schedule this year.”

The Sharks are currently in the middle of a stretch of seven games in just 11 days before the All-Star break. In a normal season, that kind of schedule is rare. This season, it’s commonplace.

Some teams have already had their bye weeks. The Islanders and Penguins were the first, taking the opening week of January off. The Sharks’ bye week isn’t until Feb. 20-24. Only Anaheim’s is later.

Sharks coach Pete DeBoer didn’t give his opinion on the bye week, but indicated that if it’s going to happen, late February is a good time to get some rest.

“The way it laid out for us, I’m happy with that scheduling,” DeBoer said. “There’s not many happy moments when I look at our schedule, but that is one that I felt laid out right for us.”

Neither DeBoer, nor Hextall, nor Sutter is playing games, of course. Polling some Sharks players, they seemed to like the idea of getting some down time in the middle of playing a condensed schedule. The Sharks won’t even be allowed to practice over those five days, and will resume their season on Feb. 25 in Vancouver (the Canucks have the exact same bye week, so they’ll be in the same situation when the teams face off).

The majority of the current Sharks team is coming off of a short summer following a trip to the Stanley Cup Final, and no NHL team had more than the five representatives San Jose had in the final round of the World Cup between Team Canada and Team Europe. Key contributors Joe Pavelski, Brent Burns and Martin Jones are all headed to the All-Star Game at the end of the month, too.

So, is having the bye week worth it for the condensed schedule?

“Yeah, I think it is, because if you take away those five days and you sprinkle two games in there, there’s no guarantees that you’re going to get a day off in between those days,” Pavelski said.

Marc-Edouard Vlasic said: “If I’m in San Jose I might as well play hockey, I’m not sitting around and watching. I get five days to go back home, which is good.”

It’s difficult to predict how the Sharks will respond to their bye week. Joel Ward preferred to take the wait-and-see approach.

“I think with a lot of hockey, it might be beneficial for us, especially for a lot of guys that played in the World Cup, played that many [games] and have played high minutes,” Ward said. “I think it could be beneficial for those guys, and some guys going to the All-Star Game, too. Hopefully it works out in our favor with some rest for our key guys. We’ll see how it plays out.”

Vlasic took issue with the way the bye week has been instituted. He thought it was the same week for every team, which isn’t the case.

“Weird is putting it nicely,” said the defenseman. “Why do some teams have a break in January when there’s an All-Star break coming up, and we get it the last possible week right before the playoff push? I’m not saying we shouldn’t have it at that time, but everyone should have it at the same time.”

A case can be made, too, that the bye week is adversely affecting the NHL product.

Take one game back on Dec. 18 when the Sharks were in Chicago. Instead of what should have been a thrilling matchup between two of the Western Conferences best teams, the game was tremendously dull for the first period-and-a-half. The Sharks were wrapping up a stretch of four road games in six days, while the Blackhawks were playing their fifth game in eight days, and second of a back-to-back with travel.

Playing so many games, with practice time at a minimum, leads to bad hockey, and that’s a disservice to the fans.

For at least one season, though, it’s something everyone is stuck with. The schedule is a reality, and Pavelski believes the Sharks are handling it well.

“At the end of the day, you get ready, you do what you need to do to prepare, and you show up and play,” said the captain. “I believe this group has done a tremendous job of that this year. We haven’t had any games where it’s just been a complete dud from the start.”