Getty Images

My Favorite Goal: Tomas Hertl goes between-the-legs

2 Comments

Welcome to “My Favorite Goal,” a regular feature from NBC Sports where our writers and personalities remember the goals that have meant the most to them. These goals have left a lasting impression and there’s a story behind each one.

Today, RotoWorld’s Ryan Dadoun remembers Tomas Hertl‘s four-goal night against the Rangers, which he capped off with a between-the-legs beauty.

When I’m watching a sporting event, any sporting event, I want to see creativity and emotion. As someone in his mid-30s who has spent his whole life in Toronto, one of the most memorable sporting moments I have is Jose Bautista’s bat flip. It perfectly embodied the jubilation and release of frustration that the city was feeling at that time. It also drew ire from some who viewed it as disrespectful. That argument has always rubbed me the wrong way, which leads me to my favorite goal, Tomas Hertl’s fourth against the New York Rangers on Oct. 8th, 2013.

It was a between-the-legs, top shelf goal on Martin Biron and while Hertl didn’t do anything as dramatic as flip his stick after the goal, he was clearly thrilled and the goal itself, some would argue, was needlessly fancy. Plus, Hertl’s San Jose Sharks had a 7-2 lead in the third period even before that goal. If there were people who took issue with Bautista showing that level of emotion after nailing a critical home run in a playoff game, you can imagine that there were people who took issue with Hertl’s actions for a needless goal in an early October contest.

Hall of Famer Adam Oates, who was the head coach of the Washington Capitals at that time, was one of the most famous ones to object to Hertl’s goal.

“I’m upset. I was just talking to George [McPhee] and he said all the kids do that nowadays, which I understand. But would he have done it on his first goal?” Oates said in 2013 via the Washington Post. “He hasn’t scored yet tonight and he gets a breakaway, is he going to do that on his breakaway? We’ll see.

“I think it was a little bit of a mood thing, which I’m sure they talked about, because they didn’t play him after that. I’m glad the coach did that because this league, it will bite you if you’re not sharp. Don’t disrespect the league. I’m sure it was a rookie mistake.”

Don Cherry was the other huge voice against Hertl’s celebration.

“There’s been a lot said about a lot of things, but let me say something: If the score [had] been 1-1, I would have said ‘Hey, what a goal!’ But I want you people out there to think about this: I want you think if Martin Biron was your son or your brother in an 8-2 [game], and everybody’s laughing at him,” Cherry said of Hertl, per Yahoo Sports.

He added, “I’m going to say something about the kid. He didn’t think he did anything wrong. He played in the Czech Republic last year. This is what they do. You can see him laughing at it. He didn’t understand. And kids, you don’t do that.”

With Cherry’s far more recent comments in the back of our minds, let’s awkwardly side step his assertion that Hertl didn’t know any better because he had been playing in the Czech Republic and instead look at the other argument: What if Biron was your brother? The Sharks had already won that game, so what purpose did Hertl’s goal serve other than to humiliate your theoretical brother?

Well, first off, your brother is a professional player getting well compensated to compete, not just for the sake of competing, but for the entertainment of others. The entire economy of the sport that allows these players to make the big bucks is based around the idea that they’re fun to watch. That people are willing to pay good money to watch them play. So entertainment value has meaning in and of itself and while you’re naturally rooting for your brother’s success every time he’s involved in a play, you have to be prepared to take some bad with the good, given how much the good outweighs the bad in this situation.

Obviously these are human beings we’re talking about, not just vehicles for entertainment. They deserve to be treated with respect. That’s why things like prioritizing player safety and weeding out abusive coaches is so important. The emotions of the moment can only excuse so much. Even so, there is still room for players to express joy and creativity even at the risk of some other players having their feelings hurt in the moment. 

Secondly, the goal wasn’t completely meaningless. While it didn’t impact the outcome of the game, it does have historical and more immediate context that’s fun to get into. It was a four-goal game scored in just Hertl’s third career contest. It came immediately after he scored two goals on Oct. 5th, giving him at the time six goals in three career games. It was fun to think about what the future might hold for him and the fact that he scored on a fancy move highlighted an extra level of skill that made him all the more worth tuning in to going forward, again tying back into the entertainment value that’s leading to the big bucks being made.

The move itself also makes the moment memorable. It turned what would have been a relatively meaningless blowout win in early October into a game we remember. It was something a little different, something a little fresh. Maybe that’s because older players have learned to show more restraint, but maybe rather than that being a knock on Hertl’s youth, it’s a knock on the conformity in the league. The idea that you shouldn’t give your all to score because you already have a big lead or the idea that you shouldn’t be celebratory when you score your fourth goal because it didn’t meaningfully impact the score itself just feels a little lifeless to me. You’re losing a little something special in the process.

Four goals is special. It’s worth trying for, for its own sake. Fancy goals are interesting and could throw off goaltenders. It’s worth attempting them from time-to-time. And I’d argue that celebrations are worth having when something big, like scoring fourth goal in a single game at the age of 19, happens. Rather than demean players, it humanizes the sport and shows that these are real people with real feelings playing the game, even if in the process some feelings might unfortunately get a little hurt. Though to that point, hurt feelings can also lead to fierce rivalries, which help make sports as worth watching as they are.

It’s worth adding that while there were some big names who were against Hertl’s celebration, he did have one big defense. Joe Thornton made a NSFW comment that arguably ended up being more famous than the goal itself. Those comments also ended up sparking another separate controversy about when a reporter should regard what’s being said in a locker room as off the record.

Another person whose take is interesting is the person on the receiving end of the goal, Biron. He enjoyed a 508-game NHL career and Hertl’s goal was scored in his 507th contest. Rather than be upset with the goal specifically, Biron was more upset with his play and the situation he was in with the Rangers at the twilight of his career.

“Our bench were going to gun for him, obviously, because it’s 8-2, he scored four goals, and he’s celebrating like he just won the Stanley Cup,” Biron told The Athletic in 2018. “I didn’t really realize (Hertl) celebrating too much, but I know that our players after the game said some of the veterans like Couture and Joe (Thornton) got up over the bench and said don’t worry, we’ll talk to him. … The (Sharks) veterans were like, we know he overdid it.

“But the kid was young, his family was in the stands, it’s exciting. I get that. There’s a bit of old school/new school (debate) that goes into that. So I wasn’t mad because of the goal itself. It was more the situation. It was kind of the beginning of the end. I played in St. Louis a few days later and it didn’t go well, and I was like, it’s time to move on.”

As for Hertl, that four-goal game offered a window into his potential. In the years that followed, there would be growing pains, until he really began to click late in 2017-18 and then broke out in 2018-19 with 35 goals and 74 points in 77 games. He’s carried that success into this season as well and is now one of the cornerstones of the Sharks’ offense. He even added two more hat tricks back in January, but for me that fourth goal back in 2013 remains the most memorable moment of his career, both for what it was and for the discuss it sparked.

PREVIOUSLY ON MY FAVORITE GOAL
McCarty shows off goal-scoring hands during 1997 Cup Final
Ovechkin scores ‘The Goal’ as a rookie
Malik’s stunning shootout winner
Paul Henderson scores for Canada
Lemieux’s end-to-end masterpiece; Hextall scores again

For everything fantasy hockey, check out Rotoworld’s Player News, and follow @Rotoworld_ HK and @RyanDadoun on Twitter.

The Buzzer: Meet Matiss Kivlenieks; Booming Blackhawks and Blue Jackets

Matiss Kivlenieks Blue Jackets Blackhawks Buzzer
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Three Stars

1. Oliver Bjorkstrand, Columbus Blue Jackets

Bjorkstrand played a big role in the Blue Jackets’ fifth consecutive win. The Rangers carried a 1-0 lead into the third period, where Bjorkstrand scored both of Columbus’ goals for a 2-1 win. The first one was unassisted, while Bjorkstrand generated the game-winner with less than 30 seconds remaining in regulation.

The Blue Jackets sit in the East’s first wild-card spot … for the time being.

Bjorkstrand now has 14 goals, putting him in range of last season’s career-high of 23. He finished Sunday at 25 points in 37 games this season.

2. Matiss Kivlenieks, also Columbus Blue Jackets

Don’t blame hockey fans if they say, “OK, now the Blue Jackets are just inventing European goalies.” At least we can latch onto the funny name and prolonged hot streak of Elvis Merzlikins.

Kivlenieks, 23, made a splash during his NHL debut on Sunday. The Latvia native stopped 31 of the 32 shots he faced against the Rangers, nabbing a win. Here are a few facts about Matiss, who might draw a few Henri Matisse references from an extremely select group of hockey fans:

  • Kivlenieks wend undrafted.
  • He didn’t exactly set the AHL on fire so far in 2019-20, going 7-7-2 with a weak .896 save percentage.
  • Kivlenieks didn’t really put up very good stats in the AHL in 2018-19 or 2017-18, either. He fared better during eight ECHL appearances in 2018-19, though, managing a .923 save percentage.
  • The “Joker” mask indicates that there’s a chance he is corny.

Numbers are lower levels guarantee little, but they’re better than nothing. Kivlenieks doesn’t really check that box, but then again, neither did Andrew Hammond. So who knows? Goalies: they’re odd.

3. Robin Lehner, Chicago Blackhawks

Much like the Blue Jackets, the Blackhawks have won five in a row. To some degree, that boils down to hot play from Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane (who reached 1,000 points on Sunday).

Don’t discount Lehner’s role in helping Chicago persist in the playoff bubble, though. Despite a significant drop-off in defensive play around him compared to his Islanders run, Lehner continues to look strong in net. He made 36 saves on Sunday to improve to 15-7-4 with a strong .924 save percentage. That’s really not far off from last season’s outstanding .930 mark, which helped Lehner become a Vezina finalist.

Sunday presented some solid honorable mentions. Sidney Crosby collected two assists during the Penguins’ surprising comeback against the Bruins. (Check out Crosby’s no-look pass.) Lehner’s teammate Alex Nylander collected a goal and an assist, and so on.

Highlights of the Night

Justin Williams did more than just return to the Hurricanes and NHL on Sunday. He also scored the shootout-deciding goal and led a “Storm Surge.” (Read this for more on Williams’ triumphant return.)

Patrick Kane didn’t just reach 1,000 points. He did so in style:

Factoids

  • Kane became the youngest U.S.-born player to reach 1,000 points. Consider this post to be its own factoids section on Kane’s milestone.
  • The Penguins joined the Panthers in generated three comeback wins from down three goals or more, according to NHL PR. (Pittsburgh also pulled that off in 2008-09.) The league notes that only three teams have generated more comeback wins from such deficits, all at four: the Red Wings in 1989-90, and both the 1983-84 Oilers and 1983-84 North Stars.
  • Uh oh. Connor Hellebuyck sports a troubling .897 save percentage over his last 16 games after managing a .933 mark during his first 16, according to TSN’s Statscentre. Hellebuyck grabs my current hypothetical Vezina vote in part because he’s carried such a burden for the Jets. Maybe he’s starting to wear down?

Scores

PIT 4 – BOS 3
CAR 2 – NYI 1 (SO)
CBJ 2 – NYR 1
CHI 5 – WPG 2

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Patrick Kane hits 1,000 points, and Blackhawks are red-hot

Leave a comment

People might really start to ask: “Can the Chicago Blackhawks actually make the playoffs?” They won’t have to ask when Patrick Kane will reach 1,000 points.

Kane managed the feat on Sunday. As you can see in the video above, Kane scored point 1,000 on a beautiful secondary assist. He set up Ryan Carpenter, who fed Brandon Saad for that milestone helper. The Blackhawks realized what happened very quickly, mobbing number 88 to celebrate his 1,000th point.

The atmosphere became extra festive as Chicago beat Winnipeg 5-2, giving the Blackhawks five wins in a row.

Kane makes history with point 1,000

The Blackhawks winger wiped a tear or three away after realizing his accomplishment. Kane indeed made some history by reaching 1,000 points in 953 career regular-season games:

  • NHL PR notes that Kane became the youngest U.S.-born player to reach 1,000 points, doing so at age 31 (and 61 days). Jeremy Roenick reached that mark at age 32 (and 13 days).
  • Kane scored his 1,000th point as the second-youngest of any Blackhawk, in general, according to Sportsnet stats. Denis Savard ranks as the only one who hit 1,000 at a younger age, doing so at 29 and 35 days.
  • NHL PR tweeted out a few other tidbits. Kane is the 10th player of U.S. nationality to reach 1,000 points, and ranks among only five who did so in fewer than 1,000 games. Again, Kane got there in game 953.

Impressive stuff. Sunday’s assist extended Kane’s current point streak to 10 games (four goals, 11 assists for 15 points). He’s on a similar hot streak to Jonathan Toews, his partner in crime.

Blackhawks heat up

Speaking of hot streaks, the Blackhawks are indeed gaining steam. This marks their fifth win in a row, and things look good when you zoom out. They’ve also won nine times in their last 12 games (9-3-0) and 11 in their last 15 (11-4-0).

This surge didn’t push Chicago into the top eight. Instead, they now have the same 54 standings points as the ninth-place Jets, although Winnipeg holds a game in hand. Both teams trail an assortment of Pacific Division teams for the two wild-card spots at 57 points, and the Dallas Stars for the third Central spot at 58.

Such gaps sometimes appear closer than they really are — have you met our frenemy, the “charity point?” — but it’s still promising.

Staying in fighting distance of a playoff spot also makes Kane reaching 1,000 feel sweeter, without the bitterness of Chicago’s recent struggles.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Yes, Justin Williams led ‘Storm Surge’ in Hurricanes’ return

Leave a comment

Sports sometimes stick to “Hollywood” scripting, but hockey can be stubborn. In this case, Justin Williams delivered during his return to the Carolina Hurricanes and NHL in general.

Williams closed out what was a pretty exciting, and occasional strange, shootout in Carolina’s favor. It went eight rounds, but Williams scored the shootout-deciding goal as the Hurricanes beat the Islanders 2-1.

Naturally, that wasn’t enough for this “bunch of jerks.” Williams also fittingly took center stage during the “Storm Surge,” giving a salute. You can watch those great moments in the video above this post.

More on a storybook return for Justin Williams

James Reimer made fun of our thirst for a narrative after the game.

“It was all a conspiracy from the beginning. That was the plan,” Reimer joked, via the Hurricanes’ website. “We fooled everyone.”

Really, there’s only one question about this Williams return: what took Rod Brind’Amour so long to send him out in the shootout? Just number eight? Nice sense of the moment, Rod.

(Just kidding — mostly.)

Williams made an impact on the game proper, firing three shots on goal, delivering a hit, and blocking a shot during 13:06 time on ice. Despite being a grizzled veteran at age 38, Williams faced some jitters.

“I was nervous the whole game, to be honest,” Williams said. “It was a playoff game out there. That’s what it felt like that. Teams weren’t giving an inch. There were chances either way, and it could have gone either way,” he said. “I’ve played over 1,200 of these, so I was like, ‘OK, Justin. Get real here. You can do this.’ It was fun. We got what we wanted: two points.”

Well, Brind’Amour believes Williams “fit right in.”

Speaking of people getting right back into the groove, the Hurricanes provided a fun variation on his nickname: on Sunday, Williams became “Mr. Round 8.”

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Bruins coach Cassidy has some harsh words for his defense

Bruins
Getty
Leave a comment

PITTSBURGH — For the third time this season and the second time this week the Boston Bruins lost a game after holding a three-goal lead. On Sunday, it was a 4-3 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

After scoring three first period goals, the Bruins allowed the Penguins to climb back into the game and eventually tie it on a Jack Johnson shorthanded goal early in the third period. That set the stage for Bryan Rust to score the game-winner with just over seven minutes remaining.

That goal is the one that really seemed to draw the ire of Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy after the game. Especially since it is the type of thing he has been seeing too much of lately. He used that goal as an opportunity to criticize the play of his defensemen and the type of hockey they are playing.

It all started with Penguins center Evgeni Malkin forcing a turnover on the forecheck thanks to a heavy check on Bruins defenseman Charlie McAvoy. McAvoy gave up the puck to Malkin, Malkin found Rust wide open inside the faceoff dot, and Rust deposited in the net before Bruins goalie Jaroslav Halak could figure out what happened.

This game had to be especially frustrating for the Bruins after losing a three-goal lead in Philadelphia earlier this week.

“We saw some poor defending, poor goaltending I think in Philly. Tonight I thought it was more the same to be honest with you,” said Cassidy on Sunday. “Not so much on the goalie, they were good goals. But we get beat off the wall on the first one. The last one I can’t tell you what happened to be honest with you. It’s a rimmed puck goalie needs to get out and stop. The D need to communicate.

“You need to make a play. You can’t turn the puck over there. There’s too much of that going on. Guys that have offensive ability have to start playing to their strength a little more on our back end, or we have to seriously consider what type of D corps do we want? We are supposed to be mobile, we are supposed to be able to move the puck, break pucks out and add to our offense. Right now that is a challenge for us.”

Cassidy never mentioned anyone by name there, but it’s not hard to figure out who he is talking about.

McAvoy is the one that was guilty of the turnover on the game-winning goal, and it is probably fair to say that he is one of the players Cassidy wants to see playing to their strength more offensively. McAvoy spoke to the media after the game and admitted he needed to be stronger on that puck.

Aside from the turnover, McAvoy has been having an underwhelming season based on the standard he set for himself over his first two seasons. His possession numbers are down, and as of Sunday he has yet to score a goal in 46 games. He scored seven goals in 54 games a year ago, after scoring seven in 63 games during his rookie season.

It should also be noted that veteran John Moore was the one that got beat on the first goal that Cassidy mentioned. Moore, normally a 17-18 minute per game defenseman, was pretty much benched after that play. He finished the game with just 10 minutes of ice-time, only six of which came in the second and third periods after that goal was scored.

Cassidy was asked if he thought the team let up a little bit after getting the early lead. He did not see it that way, instead focussing on the type of goals they allowed.

“We got out-chanced in the second, but I don’t think it was to the point where they were bombarding us,” said Cassidy. “They were better, but we lose a battle low on the second goal, and our forward swings away. These are correctible mistakes, but the goals we are giving up against this good team like tonight. What is it? Is it lack of focus? Did we lose our urgency? Because they are gifts a little bit. Little bit of gifts. You can get out played, you will by good teams in stretches, but they were gifts.”

This Bruins team — and especially their defense — had their toughness questioned by the Boston media in the wake of their response to the hit that sidelined starting goalie Tuukka Rask.

Now they are facing public criticism from the person whose opinion matters most — their own coach — for a far bigger problem.

Their actual play on the ice.

Related: Penguins score four consecutive goals to beat Bruins

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.