With wins in six consecutive games and eight of their past 10 the San Jose Sharks have surged to the top of the Pacific Division standings.
On Thursday they host the Edmonton Oilers in a first-place showdown (the Oilers are only two points behind San Jose and could move into a tie with them with a regulation win) and will be getting even stronger on the ice with the return of forward Tomas Hertl.
Hertl, 23, will be making his return to the lineup after missing more than two months with a knee injury. He was activated from injured reserve on Wednesday and has nine points (four goals, five assists) in 17 games. For Hertl his return to the lineup on Thursday is at least an opportunity to get some game action in before getting a few days off to rest during the upcoming NHL All-Star break.
It is also a little earlier than expected, given that just a few weeks ago it was believed that he may not be able to return to the Sharks’ lineup until mid-to-late February.
Before the injury he had spent a significant portion of his ice-time skating alongside Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski, a line that was absolutely tremendous a year ago, outscoring opponents by a 34-13 margin and controlling more than 56 percent of the shot attempts in more than 516 minutes of 5-on-5 ice-time together (via Puckalytics).
Hertl was the Sharks’ fifth leading scorer a year ago with 46 points and put together a strong postseason run for them on their way to the Stanley Cup Final. He was arguably the Sharks’ best player in the first two games of that series before he was injured and missed the final four games of the series.