-- Nashville Predators
right wing Patric Hornqvist
took a peak over his right shoulder and looked at the whiteboard in his locker room. There was the name of his former teammate, Joel Ward
, penciled in on the right wing next to center Nicklas Backstrom
and left wing Alex Ovechkin
"We were talking about that earlier before the skate," Hornqvist said of the incongruity of thinking about his former teammate playing with two of the League's most prolific scorers. "It's always a good thing to see him doing well. He's a great guy."
Even for Ward, it has taken a while to get used to.
"It is definitely a different system, different style," he said. "Scoring goals here is, geez, I think, right across the room a lot of guys can definitely put the puck in the net here. We had times in Nashville where we really struggled with that, so we had to play a different style or system."
Ward, a 6-foot-1, 226-pound workman-like forward who spent the previous three seasons in Nashville, scoring only 10 goals last season but leading the Preds in the Stanley Cup Playoffs with 7 goals and 6 assists in 12 games, makes his return to Nashville on Tuesday, as his new team, Washington, visits the Preds.
On a roster abundant in skill that has not met the lofty postseason expectations set for it the past couple of seasons, Ward represents an influx of sandpaper in Washington.
The Capitals gave Ward a four-year, $12-million contract, even though he had just 40 goals in three seasons as a Predator.
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"I think he gives them balance," Nashville coach Barry Trotz
said. "Guys like Ward and (Troy) Brouwer and (Jason) Chimera and people like that, with the high-end skill they have up front and even on the back end, it gives them more balance. If the game is played in more of a tight-checking, grinding style, they can do that. If it's a wide-open, skill, trading-chances type of game, they definitely can do that. I just think they've done a really good job of adding some really important pieces.
"You can't have all just highly skilled guys. You need balance. You need some character guys and some of the role players. In certain games, role players drive your team. In certain games, your skill players drive your team. When you have a really good balance, you're going to fare pretty well and I like what (Washington General Manager) George McPhee
and the Caps did this summer."
Trotz said he spoke to Washington coach Bruce Boudreau
during the summer about what Ward brings to a team: The ability to retrieve pucks and block shots, play strong on the wall, help to sort out things out in the defensive zone and to stabilize any line.
Boudreau said Ward, 30, who has 4 goals and 3 assists in 15 games and is tops among Washington forwards with a plus-7 rating, has fulfilled the concept of what the organization envisioned when Boudreau spoke to Trotz.
"He's done everything we've asked of him," Boudreau said. "Two-way player, great person in the locker room, is very responsible, can put him in any situation and he thrives. You put him on a line that's not going well, the line goes well. He's a great team player."
Ward said he keeps in touch with a few former teammates, including Shea Weber
and Blake Geoffrion
, through fantasy football. Since he's in a different conference, Ward said he still pulls for his old team.
Former linemate David Legwand
is out with an upper-body injury and Ward said he was grateful so that he would not have to listen to Legwand "chirp" him all night.
Joking aside, Ward has fond memories of Nashville and appreciates what the organization did for him. Prior to joining the Preds, he had played just 11 games in the League by age of 27.
"(Predators General Manager David) Poile gave me an opportunity to play here," said Ward. "With the coaching staff with Trotzy and everybody, I'm very thankful for that opportunity to kind of find my own zone, I guess you could say. A great franchise, so really thankful for that."
Ward is a player who knows his role and said he mostly tries to "let the big guys score goals." He also knows what the expectations are come playoff time for a Washington team that currently sits only two points out of the Eastern Conference's top spot.
"Obviously they got beat by Tampa here," he said of the Caps' second-round playoff loss last spring. "I think with a couple of other guys like myself and kind of bring a little more experience. If some of that playoff mentality hopefully wears off and helps out, the main goal is to move as far as possible in the playoffs and obviously achieve that big one of the Stanley Cup."