SAN JOSE – Finally, the Sharks power play is gaining steam.
For the first time this season the Sharks have scored a goal on the man advantage in three straight games. A unit that was dead last in the NHL on Nov. 14 at 11.1 percent is a bit more respectable now at 16.4 percent, good for 24th in the league.
What’s been the biggest key lately? Forward Joel Ward.
The free agent addition was put back on the top unit in the third period of the 5-3 win in Columbus on Nov. 22. Since then, the Sharks have scored four power play goals in their last nine chances.
Ward has played a direct role in three of them. Against the Blue Jackets, he set up Brent Burns with arguably the best pass of the Sharks’ season, sparking a thrilling third period comeback. In the most recent game against Calgary on Saturday, Ward set up in front of the net and jammed in a Joe Pavelski pass on a five-on-three, and less than a minute later he screened goalie Jonas Hiller on Patrick Marleau’s wrist shot.
The 34-year-old forward, third on the team in scoring with 19 points, continues to impress in just about every situation he’s placed.
“He can do a little bit of everything. He helps out wherever you stick him,” coach Pete DeBoer said.
In Logan Couture’s absence, DeBoer tried a number of different players on the top unit, including Ward for five games from Oct. 24 – Nov. 3. Matt Tennyson, Paul Martin and Marc-Edouard Vlasic also took turns there, but the Sharks just couldn’t get that power play going.
It’s going now with Ward back up there.
“He’s given them another nice jolt of energy here coming back in there,” DeBoer said. “He’s a nice guy to have on the team because you can plug him in to all kinds of situations and usually there’s positive results.”
What has Ward been doing?
Pavelski said: “He’s good on pucks. You watch his wall play, his presence in front of the net. It’s given us another guy that’s gelled with us. … That one piece (Couture) really shouldn’t matter that much, but when we’re just going every which direction, it’s good to see someone fit in.”
DeBoer, nor the Sharks players, ever seemed overly concerned with the power play despite its struggles for the first six weeks. Still, something had to change.
“There were probably a couple areas where certain things slipped, but we cleaned a few of those areas up now and it’s definitely helped,” Pavelski said.
So has Ward.
“We’ve got the talent to do it, we’ve just got to get it done,” Ward said. “It was just a matter of time. It’s good to see us gain some confidence from it and put a couple home the last couple games.”