UPDATE (11:15 AM): Joel Ward's now day-to-day with a shoulder injury, Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer told reporters at Saturday's morning skate. Ward initially feared he separated his shoulder.
The Sharks lost another veteran leader to injury on Thursday, and will be without him for the foreseeable future.
Joel Ward suffered an upper-body injury in the second period of Thursday's loss to the Golden Knights, and like injured teammate Joe Thornton, he's out indefinitely, head coach Peter DeBoer told reporters on Friday. Ward seemed to injure his right shoulder when Vegas defenseman Nate Schmidt hit him from behind while both players went after a loose puck along the boards midway through the second period, and he did not return.
It's clear that age has caught up to the 37-year-old winger, as he's scored a career-low 0.24 points per game this season. But his absence leaves San Jose's fourth line, which was already in need of answers, with even more questions.
DeBoer's cycled numerous players at the bottom of the lineup, giving looks to any combination of Ward, oft-scratched Jannik Hansen, young forwards Marcus Sorensen, Danny O'Regan, Barclay Goodrow, and the now-departed Ryan Carpenter. Since O'Regan's call-up earlier this month, he's had some success with the rookie, Goodrow, and Ward.
In a hair over 23-and-a-half five-on-five minutes together, the trio has out-attempted their opponents, (56.76 corsi-for percentage), outshot opponents (68.18 shots-for percentage), and also outscored opponents two-to-one, according to Natural Stat Trick. The puck possession edge came primarily from a dominant effort against Carolina on Super Bowl Sunday, but those are still encouraging early returns for a line that's looked for an identity all season.
The search continues Saturday night against the Edmonton Oilers, with Hansen set to slide in to Ward's spot. Hansen's played in just three games since the calendar flipped to 2018, and only about five minutes alongside O'Regan and Goodrow together.
He's played with Goodrow and O'Regan individually, seeing far more of the puck with Goodrow (57.89 corsi-for percentage together) than with O'Regan (31.25 percent). This will be their first real look as a trio, and it comes at a critical juncture.
With Thornton out, the scoring burden is spread throughout the rest of the lineup, and it's even more important that the Sharks are able to ice a capable fourth line. Plus, the trade deadline is just 16 days away, and San Jose rumored to be looking for help on the fourth line prior to Ward's injury.
Goodrow's largely been a fixture, but there should be a real sense of urgency for his linemates. O'Regan's appeared overmatched at times, and could find himself back in the AHL if the Sharks make a move. Hansen, meanwhile, is a pending unrestricted free agent, and could find himself out of the organization entirely if San Jose decides to look elsewhere for help.
Saturday's not necessarily a last chance, but it may be the beginning of one.