At the beginning of training camp in September the thought of Cal O'Reilly and Joel Ward anchoring Nashville's scoring lines would have been almost laughable. Yet this past weekend that's just what happened.
Ward was the surprise of training camp and earned a spot on the Opening Night roster. After opening the season battling for fourth line minutes, Ward scored on opening night at St. Louis and finished October with two goals. As the season progressed, Ward established himself as one of the team's leading penalty killers. As of late February he had netted eight goals in 57 games and was one of the feel-good stories of the season for the Preds.
Then as the Predators opened a crucial five-game homestand things started to “click” for Ward. He scored the game-winning goal against Chicago on February 24 in the opener of the homestand. He scored a key goal in Nashville's 4-1 win over Phoenix two nights later and then scored again two nights after that in Nashville's 8-0 win over Detroit. Over his last 16 games Ward has scored nine goals, including a momentum changing shorthanded tally yesterday against Los Angeles and another momentum changing goal tonight at Detroit – both goals which tied the game in the third period of eventual Preds wins.
O'Reilly is paying similar dividends. After an AHL All-Star Campaign last season, O'Reilly suffered an injury just prior to the start of training camp in September. The injury held O'Reilly out of action for much of camp and lost an opportunity to show his skills for the Preds coaching staff. However, he worked hard for the Milwaukee Admirals, ranking among the AHL scoring leaders this season. He got his first NHL opportunity February 28 when the Preds hosted the Detroit Red Wings and picked up an assist 4:48 into the game – the game's opening goal of Nashville's shutout win. After David Legwand
was injured earlier this week, O'Reilly earned a second recall to the NHL and has recorded two points in his first three games of the stint, including team's first goal vs. Los Angeles yesterday and assist on the third period goal to give Preds 3-2 lead this evening.
The two forwards who few paid attention to during training camp have played leading roles in Nashville's weekend sweep, combining for three goals and one assist in the two games.