Jason Chimera and Joel Ward are like-minded players. Big, burly wingers who prefer to work the play along the boards and wear an opponent down, they’ll happily head to the front of the net in search of a redirection or other greasy goals.
They’ll take an appearance on a highlight reel when they can get it, but both players are comfortable in their on-ice identity and know well what they must do to succeed.
“We’re not trying to do too much that’s for sure. We’re not trying to toe drag anybody,” Chimera said. “We know what we are. We know what we do and we know we can make plays when we get it down there. That’s where we’re going to get all our goals – cycling.”
Perhaps that self-awareness is why regardless which center they’ve played with over the first 10 games of the season, they’ve helped make the Capitals’ third line one of the most consistent units every night.
Thursday night in Washington’s 4-1 win over the Oilers, both Chimera and Ward recorded even-strength goals as they found the finish to complement their ability to drive lengthy, grueling shifts in the offensive-zone. After their tallies in Edmonton, Ward has three goals and three assists, Chimera two goals and one assist.
While the numbers aren’t all that large and, like the majority of the team, they reside with minus ratings, when the Capitals struggled at the start of the season it was their line that could establish offensive-zone possession in even the ugliest and most lopsided contests.
“They grind away,” Coach Adam Oates said. “Chimmer and Wardo have played with each other a long time. They know each other well, they complement each other well, and they’re willing to go play that type of hockey that allows them zone time and to hopefully wear the other team down.”
The formula worked in the first seven days when Eric Fehr, who recorded a goal and an assist in that initial stretch, was their center. Now with Mikhail Grabovski in the middle, they have a natural center and more gifted playmaker to work with.
While there’s no telling how long this particular configuration will last, Oates sees benefits in teaming Grabovski with players whose identities are so well entrenched. Grabovski is still learning the Capitals’ system and his responsibilities within it, so being on the third line simplifies that task a bit.
“His job is to figure out how to complement them,” Oates said. Grabovski has played with Chimera and Ward for three games now, and in the past two contests he seems to have found how to work with them. He scored a goal in Winnipeg after a hard-cycling shift and Ward crashed the net, allowing a rebound to pop free. Then in Edmonton he helped work the puck down low and then found Chimera speeding through the neutral zone for a pretty set up in the third period.
Whether playing with Fehr, who was learning how to play center for the first time in his career, or with Grabovski, the approach doesn’t change for either of the veteran wingers.
“For us, we can’t over-please. We just have to stick to our game plan and hopefully he can kind of come in and it works. At times you’ve got a new guy on your line and you really want to over please him and give the puck to him a lot in certain areas,” Ward explained. “We hold a lot accountable for ourselves. We have to make plays ourselves and that will make it a lot easier for whoever plays with us.”
The biggest challenge for both players, who have seen their offensive production dry up anywhere from a few games to the bulk of a season over the past few years, is to ensure they can contribute on the scoresheet regularly in addition to the benefits they create from simply wearing down an opponent.
“We’ve been doing a good job of cycling and not getting much out of it. Nice to get a couple goals tonight, which helps the team out tremendously,” Chimera said. “When we get a couple goals, you think we’ve got a pretty good chance of winning.”