CHICAGO – When the Sharks signed Joel Ward in the summer of 2015 they did it to boost their offensive depth, as the right winger was coming off of a 19-goal, 34-point season in Washington.
But when it comes to the 36-year-old veteran, the numbers don’t tell the whole story. The big six-foot-one, 225-pounder brings the necessary intangibles that teams need up and down their lineup to be successful, and those were on display in Ward’s game did last season. He scored some timely goals along the way, particularly in the playoffs as he is wont to do, but he was essentially just a difficult guy to play against.
But for too many nights so far this season, Ward just hasn’t been noticeable enough during the course of a game. Although only two goals in 30 games didn’t help his cause, his inability to affect the game in any sort of perceivable way regardless of his scoring output was why he found himself a healthy scratch on Friday in Montreal.
“I know my duties. Win battles along the walls, and play well defensively and it will turn into some offensive chances,” Ward said on Sunday, before getting back into the lineup against the Blackhawks.
Pete DeBoer said: “I don’t judge his game on points. It’s winning battles, being on the puck, being hard enough on the offensive zone, being good on the walls in our end and in their end. All those intangibles. Blocking shots, killing penalties. All those things.”
Ward, who has two goals and nine assists, admitted that is was “definitely tough” to come out of the lineup for the first time as a healthy scratch since he’s been in San Jose. He’s certainly not used to missing games, playing in 103 of the Sharks’ 105 games last season between the regular season and playoffs, and all 82 regular season games in each of his final two years with the Capitals.
“I always want to be out there and try to help, and be out there with the guys and going to battle. So, it was definitely tough, for sure,” Ward said.
DeBoer said: “He’s a seasoned vet. He took it hard. But he took it like a pro. He knows the end game here is, we need him. We need him at his best.”
During Sunday’s game, Ward looked more involved. In fact, he was on the ice for the Sharks’ best shift of the evening with Chris Tierney and Tommy Wingels, as they kept the puck in the zone for more than a minute while trailing, 2-1, in the third period. Ward was in position in front of the net to pounce on a loose puck, had the opportunity presented itself.
Getting to those difficult areas of the ice was likely the biggest message DeBoer passed along to Ward. Before the game, the coach mentioned that some of the team’s younger players like Kevin Labanc and Timo Meier were doing just that, while others were not. Ward wasn’t mentioned by name, but the implication was evident.
“It’s a good lesson for guys who maybe haven’t scored in awhile, to get there,” DeBoer said.
As Ward gets back to playing his game and doing all of those little things that make him effective, the offense should eventually return.
“Just got to keep preparing, find different avenues to try and create or be better in certain areas, watch a lot of video with the coaches, as well,” he said. “Just hoping to transition some of that into some good stuff.”
“I’ve just got to be better. I know that. Just find ways to help the boys win. Just kind of bounce back from a little lesson there.”