SAN JOSE – San Jose Sharks center Tomas Hertl was injured and unavailable for Monday’s game with the Washington Capitals. That thrust Luke Kunin, usually used as winger, into a top-six centerman’s role.
Kunin made the most of the opportunity, scoring a go-ahead power-play goal with 7:12 left in the third period to help lift the Sharks to a 2-1 over the Capitals at SAP Center.
Kunin, stationed near the slot, one-timed a pass from Justin Bailey past Capitals goalie Darcy Kuemper for his fifth goal of the season as the Sharks completed their three-game homestand with a 2-0-1 record.
Bailey’s assist gave him his first NHL point since March 21, 2019. Earlier Monday, Bailey was signed by the Sharks to a one-year, two-way contract after he began the year with the Barracuda of the AHL.
Fabian Zetterlund scored at even strength in the first period to give the Sharks a 1-0 lead and Mackenzie Blackwood had 33 saves in the win.
The only blemish for Blackwood, if it could even be called that, was a second-period goal by Evgeny Kuznetsov. His shot from near the faceoff to the right of the Sharks’ net was stopped by Blackwood, but the rebound went off Sharks defenseman Nikita Okhotiuk and into the net at the 16:25 mark.
Hertl is considered day-to-day with what was described as an injury to his midsection. Sharks coach David Quinn said before Monday’s game that Hertl was injured Sunday when the team had the day off and was away from the rink.
That leaves the Sharks, at least for the time being, without two of their three centermen, as Logan Couture has a lower-body injury and hasn’t played all season.
The Sharks were in a similar situation through the first two weeks of the season. Couture was out, but so was Mikael Granlund, who dealt with his own lower-body issue and missed seven games from Oct. 14-27. San Jose went 0-7-0 in those games.
Hertl has a team-leading 16 points, including a goal and four assists in his last four games before Monday. But perhaps the Sharks are in a better position to absorb the loss of another centerman now than they were last month.
San Jose entered Monday with a 4-5-1 record in 10 games since a meeting with general manager Mike Grier on Nov. 6. They’ve given up an average of 3.4 goals per game since that talk, compared to 5.0 per game before. The power play had found a bit of a rhythm, going 4 of 12 in six games before Monday, and the penalty kill had become more consistent.
“We’ve been playing well as a team,” Quinn said Monday morning. “Obviously, Tommy is such an impactful player for us, but it’s an opportunity for everybody else to raise their game a little bit. If I’m a forward here, I look at it as another opportunity.”
The Sharks now begin a six-game road trip on Thursday in Boston against the Bruins. The trip, the longest of the season for the Sharks, continues with games against the Devils, Rangers, Islanders, Red Wings and Golden Knights. San Jose is the only team in the NHL that doesn’t have a win on the road (0-9-0).