WASHINGTON -- While the Washington Capitals have some high-powered offensive talent on their roster, there's only one player right now with more than one goal this season.
Joel Ward, who signed a four-year, $12 million deal in the summer of 2011 with Washington, has three goals in the Capitals' first five games - which is half of what he scored in 73 regular-season games last year.
Ward contributed a goal and an assist as Washington earned its first win of the season Sunday afternoon, beating Buffalo 3-2. He scored in the first period when he pounced on a puck that Jason Chimera hit off the side of the net. That helped turn around the momentum from an early Sabres tally, and helped fuel the Caps' victory. He also picked up an assist on John Erskine's second-period goal to give Washington a lead they wouldn't relinquish.
"The puck was there," Ward said of his goal. "I saw [Mike Ribeiro] on the side try to whack it over to him to keep it inside the blue line, he gave it to [Jason Chimera] and made a smart play and threw it on net. Luckily, the rebound came right in the slot for me. I happened to be going in the right direction and gave it a good whack."
"I thought [the Ward-Riberio-Chimera] line brought a lot of energy," Capitals coach Adam Oates said afterwards. "They scored the goal for us, tied it up. After that, we played much better hockey."
Afterwards in the Capitals' locker room, Ward said he's playing with a lot more confidence than last year.
"Obviously, more confidence level," Ward said of the change from last season. "I've said in the past I try to play for the respect of my teammates first, and once your linemates have good trust in you, things tend to flow and it's easier."
"I played with [Chimera] before, last year too, and we had a little bit of a start then. I think it's being out there, being confident and knowing people have your back, and once that happens, you can kind of relieve the pressure off yourself and go out there and have fun."
Ward so far has gotten his three goals by getting in front of the net and getting in traffic. He worked his way to the slot and pounced on the Chimera pass off the side of the net, beating Sabres netminder Ryan Miller for a key goal.
"I'm hoping to [crash the net]," he said. "It's no secret I'm not going to go down be Nicky Backstrom out there, I want to try get in front if I can, whack a few pucks and hopefully Chimmer is there to pick up some pucks."
With him working hard and finding the net, Oates was complimentary of his play so far.
"He's played great," Oates said. "That line did great tonight, and he's a big man out there and solid. Happy for him, he's doing well."
And, with his solid play, he's getting rewarded with a more prominent role in the Capitals' lineup. He can hopefully build off scoring arguably the biggest goal for the Capitals last season, the overtime goal that eliminated Boston in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series.
"For me, it's just getting an opportunity," he said. "I think that's all I was really asking for, getting out there a bit more, contributing with my teammates and you know had some positives even though we lost Game 7 [to the Rangers] last year. I thought I kind of carried that over, and show my teammates I can bring more, which I'm hoping to show my teammates I can do."
Ward also gave credit to his new linemates this year, as Riberio and Chimera have been Washington's most effective line through five games.
"Ribs is so dynamic that his patience is unbelievable, he holds onto the puck," Ward said. "And it's not just his plays. He just works hard too. He's not the biggest guy obviously, but he wins battles out there for Chimmer and I, it's no secret to find pucks give it to him, let him do his thing, and get open. So far it's been good."
Ward was just happy that the Capitals finally got in the win column - the last team in the NHL to do so.
"It's good to get any W," Ward said. "Everyone keeps rubbing it in our face that we were the only team without a win, I've heard that one many times now. It's good to kind to join everyone else I guess now and try leapfrog everybody."
When the winger was asked if this was his best hockey since that playoff run in Nashville that earned him a big contract in Washington, he said it was different now.
"That was a while ago, it is the regular season, that was the playoffs back then," he said. "It's a little different there. I'm just here in Washington trying to do work."
When asked if he thought he'd lead the Capitals in goals after 48 games, Ward laughed.
"I sure hope not, that's not the game plan," he said.
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