In a conversation with reporters during training camp, Capitals winger Joel Ward said all he wanted was an opportunity to show that he could make a difference, at even strength and on special teams.
Coach Adam Oates gave him that chance by adding him to the second power-play unit and encouraging him to crash the net. That’s exactly what Ward did Saturday night. He recorded a pair of goals by driving to the net to lead the Capitals and serve as the bright spot in the 6-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Ward’s first tally came 8 minutes 25 seconds into the first period on Washington’s third early power play of the game. Tom Poti threw the puck toward the Tampa Bay goal, where the puck bounced off Wojtek Wolski and goaltender Anders Lindback. As the Lightning scrambled to find the puck, Ward dropped from his position in the high slot to score on the rebound and tie the game at 1.
“I was excited to get one there, tie it up and was hoping we could keep going and I got another one on a lucky bounce” in the second period, Ward said. “If I can just continue to help my linemates and stay on the plus side of things it gives our team a better chance of winning games.”
Of his 13:37 of ice time, Ward saw 2:35 on the power play. Not a bad number, especially when considering that Ward played a grand total of 10:26 on the man advantage last season.
Early in the second period, the 32-year-old picked up the puck in the corner on a delayed penalty call. He did a quick give-and-go with Jason Chimera, who fed the puck back to Ward as he barreled his way toward the crease where he knocked the puck in off his skate.
That goal made it 2-2 and also marked Ward’s first multi-goal game as a Capital. The last time he recorded two goals in a game was May 7, 2011, while in the playoffs with Nashville.
The personal success was bittersweet for Ward, though, as the Capitals were undone by a lack of conditioning, eight minor penalties and a simple lack of time to become a cohesive group under Oates’s new system.
“I think everyone’s a little bit off, players, even referees a little bit. I think everyone’s just [off with] timing a little bit,” Ward said. “We made a few mistakes that definitely hurt us a little bit. But obviously we know it’s our doing and there’s no one to blame for it, so it’s something that’s easily corrected.”