SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- For San Jose Sharks coach Todd McLellan and forward Tomas Hertl, it's a simple formula when it comes to usage.
Center - SJS
GOALS: 10 | ASST: 14 | PTS: 24
SOG: 100 | +/-: -3
When Hertl skates the way he's capable of skating, he gets to play center, where he's most comfortable. When Hertl doesn't move the way McLellan knows he can, he's pushed to the wing and the Sharks lose the depth they need in the middle to compete in the Western Conference.
The problem is Hertl has been pushed to the wing, or even the fourth line, too often this season because he hasn't delivered the way McLellan knows he can.
"This season, I've had too much up and down," Hertl said.
The Sharks, coincidentally, have as well. They've been one of the most inconsistent teams in the NHL.
Hertl has 24 points (10 goals) in 60 games. He had 25 points (15 goals) in 35 games before he sustained a serious knee injury last season.
The Sharks have 68 points in 60 games, two more points in three more games than the Los Angeles Kings, their opponent Saturday in the 2015 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series game at Levi's Stadium (10 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports 2).
"Ultimately, when it's all said and done, I think he's going to be a centerman and I think he's going to be a heck of a centerman, but like Tomas' game all year, his play has been inconsistent regardless of where we play him," McLellan told NHL.com. "He's had some tremendous nights in the middle and then some other nights when you put him back on the wing and he's more comfortable there.
"So I do think he's working and we're trying to work him into that center-ice position over time, but he's still adapting to it."
McLellan said he thinks part of Hertl's inconsistencies this season trace back to the knee injury he sustained last season.
Hertl was injured Dec. 19, 2013, against the Kings, and then returned to play the final two games of the 2013-14 regular season. He had five points in seven games against the Kings in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
"He had a serious knee injury, recovered from it and got hurt again at the World Championship, so he didn't get the summer [of training] in that he needed and was behind the eight ball," McLellan said. "He's been playing catchup for almost the whole season."
Hertl, though, said he doesn't think his knee has been as big of a problem as McLellan let on.
"I don't think it's trouble," he said.
Hertl instead said he thinks his subpar statistics and inconsistent play are a result of pressure, both internal and external. He admitted to being burdened by it.
"I had 15 goals last season after 35 games, and now I have just 10, so it's easy to say, 'What is [going] wrong to have just 10 goals after 60 games?'" Hertl said.
McLellan said Hertl has been a victim of expectations, particularly because of how good he was at the start of last season. He led the NHL with seven goals through five games, including four against the New York Rangers on Oct. 8, 2013, in his third career game.
"So in the other 32 games he wasn't that prolific of a scorer, yet the hype and excitement and whatnot was there for him, so expectations went through the roof," McLellan said. "We have to remember that he still was a rookie, he only played 37 games last season. It's a tough league, it's hard to score in, especially for a young guy. He wasn't going to keep that pace up, but yet expectations were up."
Hertl, who likely will start as the Sharks' third-line left wing Saturday, said he feels his game is starting to come around now. He said he felt particularly strong the past two games, including Thursday, when he had two assists in a 5-2 win against the Dallas Stars.
Hertl was held off the scoresheet the previous five games, and the Sharks went 1-3-1. He has been held without a point in 26 of the past 33 games; the Sharks have won 17 of those games, including four of the games in which Hertl has produced.
"I just now try to play and play hard, and hopefully it's coming now because we need some goals from everybody because we need wins," Hertl said. "It's still almost my first season, just over 90 games. I'm still learning, but now it's time to play my best hockey."
If he does, and he skates well, two things that go hand in hand with Hertl, he'll get to move back to the middle. That's good for the Sharks too.