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Knights’ trade-deadline splash adds new element before playoffs

Updated April 16, 2024 - 1:02 pm

Going to the front of the net is a thankless job, but someone has to do it.

The Golden Knights are lucky Tomas Hertl loves it.

The team’s new center is making an impact down the stretch this regular season by parking his 6-foot-3 frame in front of opposing goalies. It’s led to Hertl scoring goals in back-to-back games, including the overtime winner Sunday against the Colorado Avalanche.

That kind of inside presence can make a difference come playoff time. Hertl is showing he can provide it heading into the Knights’ penultimate regular-season game against the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday.

“I always like it,” Hertl said. “Especially when you have a big body and you’re sometimes taking hits. I just want to be making it difficult for the goalies.”

Hertl, 30, has two goals and an assist in four games since making his Knights debut April 8.

All three points have come as a result of him going to the net.

Hertl picked up an assist his first game with the Knights after winning a faceoff and screening goaltender Arturs Silovs. His first goal with the team came after he camped in front of goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury on Friday and put home the rebound from defenseman Zach Whitecloud’s shot.

Hertl almost scored multiple times Sunday. He had one goal called back for goaltender interference in the second period and came close to scoring on a deflection seconds prior to his game-winning goal.

“If you look, there’s so many goals around the net,” Hertl said. “Even the top goal scorers, it’s not just (like) they score nice goals or one-timers. There’s a lot of rebounds around the net.”

The high-danger areas of the ice — the crease and the low slot — have never been where the Knights have scored the bulk of their goals.

They showed an improved inside presence during their run to a Stanley Cup championship last postseason. The team is hoping Hertl can give it a similar edge again.

“He can establish position in there and fend people off,” coach Bruce Cassidy said. “Not enough people get underneath him or bump him off.”

Hertl’s willingness to screen goaltenders has also helped the Knights’ power play.

The team scored twice on the man advantage Sunday to improve to 6-for-11 since he joined the first unit. Cassidy said Hertl parking in front pushes the Knights to put more pucks towards the net rather than passing around the perimeter.

“That’s where we need him to be,” Cassidy said. “That’s an area where, for us, we were looking for someone who was natural at it. It’s what he does for us.”

Hertl hasn’t been to the postseason since 2019, but he’s experienced success there.

He scored 10 goals in 19 games his last playoff run. That included six goals in seven games in the San Jose Sharks’ seven-game victory against the Knights in the first round.

His new team will be ecstatic if he can make a similar impact this time around.

One thing is for sure: Hertl will be hard to miss. Opponents know where he’ll be.

“I just want to be there, screen the (goalie) and just do it,” Hertl said. “Sometimes it’s hard, definitely, but the goals are there. I take a lot of pride with that.”

Contact Danny Webster at dwebster@reviewjournal.com. Follow @DannyWebster21 on X.

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