The San Jose Sharks will make two noteworthy starters healthy scratches tonight. For the second time in three games, veteran winger Joel Ward will watch from the press box and he will now be joined by free agent acquisition defenseman David Schlemko. While the rest of the Pacific Division treads water, the Sharks have swam to the top spot with seven wins in their last ten. They’ve done so by injecting youth into the lineup to replace older players, and continue that trend tonight against the only other team making moves in the division, the Calgary Flames.
The drop-off has been steep for Ward this season. Although there were signs last year that the 34-year-old winger was slowing down, such as the struggles with puck possession and a career-worst -15 rating, Ward was still impressive in 2015-16. However, with just nine points in 31 games, due in part to a breakdown in shooting ability, Ward began to see a decreased role on special teams, the a loss of ice time, and now is just sitting out games. While there may be health concerns driving this poor play, the team has not hinted at such. Ward may just be showing the wear and tear of a long, physical career. But when you play alongside the ageless Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, showing your age is not an excuse.
Schlemko’s case may have more to do with the team than the player. After a breakout season with the New Jersey Devils in 2015-16, in which his puck-moving ability finally resulted in evidence on the scoreboard, the Sharks grabbed Schlemko on July 1st with a four-year, $8.4MM contract. Perhaps his eight points in 28 games is seen as a disappointment to coach Peter DeBoer, but in fact Schlemko is well on his way to matching his 19 points from last year and has played a superior defensive game in San Jose compared to his time in New Jersey. It seems more likely that Schlemko’s scratch, a “coach’s decision”, is due to the Shark’s defensive depth. Sharing a building with your AHL affiliate allows for closer inspection of your young players, and the Sharks have seen strong play out of Barracudas Dylan DeMelo (in the lineup tonight) and Mirco Mueller this season. However, with six other bona fide NHL defenseman already on the roster, something has to give to get those young blue liners play time at the next level. Don’t expect Schlemko to be out of lineup for very long unless there is something else going on in with this situation.
In other league news:
- The Winnipeg Jets announced that they have activated Nic Petan from the injured reserve. The young forward has joined the team to start their two-game road trip and is expected to be in the lineup tonight against the Vancouver Canucks. Petan had seven points in 13 games to start the season before a lower body injury landed him on IR in November.
- The Buffalo Sabres hace made the decision to loan 2016 first-round pick Alexander Nylander to Team Sweden for the upcoming World Junior Championship. Nylander has been adjusting to the pro game with the AHL’s Rochester Americans this season and has 17 points in 29 games. However, he has not yet earned a call-up to Buffalo and there seemingly was not one coming in the near future. Instead, the Sabres see the value in sending Nylander to face the best young U-20 players on the planet at the World Juniors. He’ll join a strong Swedish side that has several players with NHL or AHL experience this season.