By all accounts, the 2011-12 regular season did not goal as Joel Ward planned.
He recorded his lowest numbers in average time on ice (12:26), goals (6) and assists (12) since he became an NHL regular in the 2008-09 season. But the main reason the Capitals signed Ward to a four-year contract worth $12 million last summer was because of his playoff production.
In fact, when Ward signed with Washington on July 1 General Manager George McPhee was quoted as saying: “I’d rather have someone that gets 10-15 [goals] in the regular season but delivers in the playoffs than someone who gets 25 and doesn’t.”
Now is Ward’s chance to step up. In the playoffs last year for Nashville, Ward recorded 13 points (7 goals, 6 assists) in 12 games. He became the type of player they tell stories about – the grinder who stepped up to shift the balance and contribute more than was expected of him.
“Wardo last year had a great playoff,” Coach Dale Hunter said. “Some guys seem to raise their game in the playoffs and that’s what you’re looking for.”
Ward believes the Bruins offer a matchup that will allow him to contribute and find a regular spot in the lineup.
“It’s a fun time to be playing hockey and I just kind of embrace it, have as much fun as I can, and I tend to be relaxed. I know what my duty is… I’ve just got to execute,” said Ward, who played in the regular season finale after missing seven straight games, four as a healthy scratch.
Since entering the lineup once again, Ward has skated on the fourth unit. In two practices this week he’s been working alongside Keith Aucoin and Mathieu Perreault. Regardless of his linemates, though, Ward knows the importance of having the third and fourth lines humming during a series in addition to the top-six forwards.
“I’ve seen it many times. Even last year in the playoffs, the Sedin twins weren’t generating a whole lot at times and [Vancouver] had other guys filling in,” Ward said. “The skill guys are going to get their points and it’s going to kind of wash out on both ends. I think it’s going to come down to lines three and four to chip in and make a difference, and I think that’s a big key in playoff success.”
So what does it take to get on a roll like the one he found himself on last spring? For Ward, it’s all about finding a rhythm on the forecheck.
“It comes to the point where you’re just seeing the puck really good and you get some opportunities, a couple good plays and the puck just follows you at times,” Ward said. “It’s getting some good bounces off rebounds in front of the net, tips and whatnot…My previous success was just wear and tear, stay in the zone and eventually I’ll get some chances.”