During the Capitals’ first practice back from the All-Star break, Joel Ward found himself as a member of the four-player fourth line – an indication that someone in the quartet will sit out the next game. While it may or may not be Ward who watches Washington take on Tampa Bay Tuesday night, the winger knows things haven’t been going well for him recently.
Ward, whom the Capitals signed to a four-year contract worth $12 million on the first day of free agency this past summer, has recorded only four points (one goal, three assists) in the past 22 games and has seen his ice time steadily decline.
Of that same 22-game span, which dates back to Dec. 7 at Ottawa, Ward has played less than 12 minutes 11 times, including each of the six games leading up to the All-Star break.
“It’s just something where you try to keep working hard,” Ward said of his lessened ice time. “There’s been some positive things and negative things they’d like to tweak a little bit, just playing two-way hockey and wearing down [opponents] and getting more in the offensive zone. Creating some more offensive chances is definitely going to be the goal here in the second part.”
While Ward feels the pressure to contribute, especially considering the Captials’ struggles to consistently manufacture offense, Coach Dale Hunter said that if the goals aren’t coming he needs to focus on the basic attributes of his game.
“Definitely you want to score more,” Hunter said when asked what he’d like to see from Ward, “but if you’re not scoring you’ve got to be playing good defensively and finish your checks and forechecking hard.”
Ward said he, like many Capitals, has been asked to focus on establishing a physical edge, particularly on the forecheck. He hopes that with better play he might have an opportunity to get back on the penalty kill, something he’s done consistently since entering the NHL and through Bruce Boudreau’s tenure with the Capitals. Ward’s average short-handed ice time has dipped to around 30 seconds per contest under Hunter, though.
“That’s huge for me and very tough. It’s something I’ve done for quite a few years and it’s been different in that aspect,” Ward said. “Of course everyone wants to be playing as much as you can but it’s definitely difficult. You want to contribute and help your team as much as you can.
“I think all I can do is control what I can,” Ward continued, “And hope that I get my name called up to get out there.”
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