Down 2-0 with 13 minutes left in Philadelphia, it would’ve been so easy for the San Jose Sharks to start cheating for offense.
That’s what they did against the Pittsburgh Penguins to begin the road trip — and they were down 6-1 after the first period. That’s what they did against the Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday — and they were blown out 6-2.
They had never looked further this season from their new, purported defense-first identity.
Instead, they stuck to their defensive structure at Wells Fargo Center, and it led to a game-breaking score. The Sharks would come back on the Flyers 3-2 in overtime to finish the road trip .500.
“The way the road trip started, the humiliating loss in Pittsburgh and our injuries and COVID and everything else, it’s a great story because we finished on a positive note,” San Jose Sharks head coach Bob Boughner said.
These are a few defensive details that would lead to the first of Tomas Hertl‘s hat trick goals.
The San Jose Sharks typically forecheck with two forwards, and they expect their third forward, their so-called third man high, to stay above the top of the circles to prevent odd-man rushes from going the other way. The third man high doesn’t chase the puck unless he’s sure he can get to it.
The Sharks have had trouble recently with their third man high chasing and missing the puck, leading to odd-man rushes against. Not so here:
Third Man High
The third man high is Hertl (48), and he’s in position to stop Scott Laughton (21) from a possible two-on-one.
If Hertl wasn’t in position, Laughton and Patrick Brown (38) would have a two-on-one against Mario Ferraro (38).
Laughton actually sidesteps Hertl in the neutral zone, but this tiny delay allows backcheckers Timo Meier (28) and Alexander Barabanov (94) to catch up.
Meier’s hustle and stick position discourage a Laughton to Brown pass. So Laughton has to keep skating or shoot the puck with four Sharks around him.
Above the dots, the Sharks play man-to-man, meaning that a defenseman can leave his traditional spot down low to chase a puck carrier up high.
It’s terrific one-on-one by Ferraro, who pokes it out of the zone from Laughton.
But notice Barabanov and Meier too, eyes on the pointmen, who are their assignments.
The Flyer who recovers the loose puck in the neutral zone — I can’t read the damn number — is forced to give it up and rim the puck around because of another aggressive Ferraro effort.
Adin Hill gives it to Burns (88) who hits Meier with a pinpoint stretch pass.
Meier does the rest: He beats Laughton at center ice and dangles it under Cam York’s (45) stick before shrugging York away to create the space to hit a crashing Hertl with the backhand pass.
What a lesson for 2019 first-round pick York.
York shouldn’t feel too bad.
Meier essentially mesmerizes three Flyers on entry. Meanwhile, poor Cam Atkinson (89) looks bad because he arrives late on Hertl all alone in front, but he’s actually pointing out Hertl to one of his teammates — at the end, Hertl wasn’t his man, he was just trying to cover for his hypnotized teammates.
“Two big bodies, you can see how hard they are to play against when we have the puck below the tops of the circles,” Boughner said of why Hertl and Meier play so well together. “They protect pucks. Timo’s speed, both guys have extremely good shots.”
As for Hertl, the big centerman says his goalscoring binge — he’s on pace for 46 goals this season — is because he’s been shooting more.
Per Natural Stat Trick, Hertl’s right: His 8.99 Shots Per 60 in All Situations is his highest since 2015-16’s 9.37. That was also the last time he averaged over eight shots Per 60.
But for Boughner, Hertl’s value tonight went beyond his natural hat trick.
“Last couple games, he’s taken a huge leadership role, he’s saying it’s alright, we’re still in this, we got this, let’s keep going, let’s keep working, we’re playing well,” he said. “Tommy was being more than just a player in the game, he was pretty inspirational in the locker room and on the bench tonight, as loud and as engaged as I’ve seen him.”
Inspirational to the end, Hertl reminded us, or perhaps his teammates: “We just showed again, every time we play our game and we stay at it all game…even with this line-up, we can beat anybody.”
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