SAN JOSE – Among Sharks newcomers, Martin Jones has garnered the majority of the headlines after bursting onto the scene with some fantastic and even historic numbers while manning the crease.
Paul Martin has calmed and solidified a defense corps that was on the verge of falling apart while he was out for the last three games with an injury. The Sharks are now 5-0 with the 34-year-old in the lineup, and have allowed just four goals over that span.
Joel Ward, though, may be outperforming them both. After three more goals on Saturday night in a 5-2 win over the Hurricanes, ending the Sharks’ three-game losing streak, the veteran forward now leads his team in goals (5) and points (8).
It’s been a prodigious start for the 34-year-old, who was signed to a three-year, $9.825 million contract in the offseason after the Washington Capitals let him walk as a free agent.
“I’m just trying to contribute,” Ward said, moments after Joe Pavelski and Tommy Wingels showered him in fans’ collected hats during his media scrum. “I think for me, it’s more importantly earning the respect of my linemates and teammates.”
He’s doing that, without question, as it was evident in the third period that some of his teammates were trying to get Ward his third goal after he tallied twice in the first period to put the Sharks up 2-0. He had a couple attempts that just missed on a power play, and a few more with an empty net, finally firing it home with less than a minute to play to cap the scoring on a pass from Brent Burns.
"It was awesome,” Pavelski said of Ward’s night. “It's what we needed. We dropped three straight and you're coming into a game like this. They played last night. It was important we got off to a good start, and he provided it for us."
Last season on Washington, Ward skated mostly on the Capitals’ third line. Since day one of Sharks training camp, though, he’s been slotted on the right side of what would be considered the Sharks’ second line. When Logan Couture was healthy, a case could be made that it was the first line, as it was the best one early on.
That was by design, according to coach Pete DeBoer, who had some familiarity with Ward after coaching him at the World Championships.
“When we signed him, we talked about putting him into a prominent role right off the bat,” DeBoer said. “He’s typically played in more of a depth-checking role in the places he’s been. … I thought he’d be a real complimentary guy to some of the guys in our top six and when he plays with good players, he has the ability to put pucks in the net. And he’s done a great job.”
As for the win over Carolina, it wasn’t exactly a Monet. The Sharks’ allowed the Hurricanes to get back into the game on two separate occasions, taking some momentum-halting penalties in the first period and later letting Riley Nash’s second period goal put them on their heels when it was 4-2. They also benefited from some weak goaltending, as Eddie Lack allowed four goals on just 13 shots before he was pulled.
Carolina had the decisive edge in shot attempts, 65-38, and pushed hard late in the second period and early in the third as the Sharks appeared guilty of not being aggressive enough while maintaining the lead.
Still, any win that halts a three-game losing streak isn’t going to be dissected too much, even if it is against a club that isn’t likely to get a sniff of the playoffs this season.
“That’s the flow of a game,” Wingels said. “You’re not going to be able to keep your foot on the gas pedal the entire time, pressing and hemming a team in their zone. There are good players in this league so you’re going to get the puck in your defensive zone for a few shifts throughout the night.”
DeBoer said: “I thought we were good. Again, there’s always things from a coaching perspective that you think you can do better, but that’s a tough team to play. … I thought we handled the game well, putting pucks in the right places, didn’t beat ourselves. And when we needed a save, we got a couple big ones from Jonesy at the right time.”
They also got more production from their newest forward, who, as Ace Ventura once said, has fit in with his new team “like a glove.”
“I’ve always believed in myself,” Ward said. “I know I’m not the prettiest hockey player, but I’ve always believed in my abilities.”