When the Washington Capitals signed Joel Ward to a four-year, $12 million deal during the summer of 2011, he had just come off a 13-point performance in the playoffs with the Nashville Predators, helping them advance to the second round for the first time in franchise history. If Washington wasn’t going to give him that money, someone else would have gladly done so.
Still, GM George McPhee admitted it was an overpayment, but that Ward was the type of player the Capitals needed. However, even though he scored a game-winning overtime goal in Game 7 of the 2012 Eastern Conference quarterfinals against the Boston Bruins, Ward was drawing the ire of fans during the regular season. In each of his first two seasons with the Capitals, he scored less than 10 goals each time.
Something changed this season. Ward now has more goals through 57 games than he did in the 112 games he played previously. His 17 tallies tie a career-high, and that’s second on the team behind Alex Ovechkin. It seems all but certain he will reach the 20-goal mark. It’s also clear that he will eclipse the 35 points he scored in 2008-09 with the Predators, his first full season in the NHL.
So what’s different this year? For one thing, Ward is shooting the puck more frequently. Throwing all of that rubber on net should eventually turn into goals, and his 17.7 percent shooting is certainly helping. That’s the highest rate on the Capitals right now.
He is also benefitting from playing with a resurgent Jason Chimera and Mikhail Grabovski. The trio made up an unstoppable third line earlier this season, and though Grabovski was moved up the depth chart before he was injured, Chimera and Ward are still together. Finally, Ward is getting steady power play time, which he wasn’t getting much of since he left Nashville. Five of his goals have been scored on the man advantage.
The Capitals have a myriad of problems this year, but Ward is not one of them. He’s been exceeding expectations even with the burden of an inflated contract. If the Caps have any hope of getting to the playoffs, the other players around him (that aren’t named Ovechkin) need to step up and follow in Ward’s scoring footsteps.