SAN JOSE -- Bracken Kearns' latest stint in the NHL might have been tenuous when he was first recalled by the Sharks over the weekend. But with yet another injury depleting an already thin forward corps, it seems Kearns and other members of San Jose's third and fourth lines are becoming more indispensable by the minute.
Tommy Wingels, injured in the first period of Sunday's 3-1 Sharks win over Anaheim, said he felt better Monday but did not practice or join the Sharks for their flight to Southern California for their New Year's Eve game against the Ducks. There is no timetable for his return.
Wingels had played just 51 seconds on two shifts when he collided with Mark Fistric and crashed awkwardly into the boards. Wingels, who has nine goals and 13 assists -- both career highs -- in 39 games, suffered an upper-body injury and did not return to the game.
That gave a bit more ice time than usual to fourth-liners Kearns, Mike Brown and Andrew Desjardins, as Sharks coach Todd McLellan was forced to shift his forward combinations on the fly.
"It's what it's all about -- stepping into roles and trying to succeed," Kearns said. "Tommy's a real good hockey player, and he's not easy to replace, but you need to have guys step up. And if I get that opportunity (Tuesday), that's what I'm going to try to do."
Line juggling is nothing new to the Sharks. With Tomas Hertl expected to miss a significant amount of time with a knee injury and Marty Havlat out with a lower-body injury, McLellan for the last 10 days has consistently been trying to find four line combinations that work.
McLellan was pleased with how his third- and fourth-line players responded after Wingels' injury but said now it's a matter of maintaining that level.
"It's been a bit of a tough haul the last six or seven games with injuries," McLellan said. "With the shuffling of lines, power play and penalty kill, you look for people to graduate a little bit and take a little more on. That group has done a great job to this point.
"But as we move forward, they're going to have to keep that level of play where it is."
Wingels' unspecified injury comes when he was playing the best hockey of his career.
"Can't really put a time on it," Wingels said, "but I feel better today than I did yesterday, and we'll see how it goes tomorrow and the day after that."
Brown and Desjardins assisted on Kearns' goal, his first in the NHL, midway through the second period that gave the Sharks a 3-0 lead. The line might not completely replicate Wingels' offensive production but still can provide the same physical dimension and energy.
"If our line is playing the way we're supposed to -- a smart, reliable line -- then we're going to see the ice time," Brown said. "Tommy left the game pretty early, so it kind of made a gap for us to double shift onto that line.
"It's good to have the confidence from the coach that we can go out there as a fourth line and still produce and not be a liability out there."
Burish, who has been skating for the last two weeks, said there isn't a specific timetable for his return. But, like Raffi Torres, he would like to be back right around the Olympic break in February.
Sharks (25-8-6) at Anaheim (28-8-5), 5 p.m. CSNCA