Welcome to Caps 'Round the Clock, a blog covering the Washington Capitals and the NHL. In season, I update the Blog after every practice and on game day with Caps news and information, and then provide a recap and analysis after each contest. I also write a periodical Prospect Watch and weekly feature pieces on the state of the Men in Red and other things Capitals. And of course, I will post videos and tidbits from around the League and offer my two cents as the season wears on. In the offseason, I write a Report Card for each player, and will keep you updated on all the news about the Caps through the summer. I'm glad you're here, and hope you come back!

Monday, August 1, 2011

The Warden

Ever since the Capitals became a dominant regular season force in 2008-09, pundits and players alike have criticized the way they play the game.  People have called them soft, overly offensive, and afraid to do the dirty work when the playoffs roll around.  And every year, the Caps have lived up to that prediction, blowing playoff series leads of two games twice and getting swept the other time, never making it past the second round.  So what did George McPhee do to try and solve the problem?  He added hard-hitting grinder Joel Ward, a winger out of the Nashville system who went undrafted but has still helped a Predators team with half the talent level of the Caps not only make the playoffs, but prove very competitive in the gauntlet West.
So what's this guy all about?  Find out after the jump.
Like Troy Brouwer, the other forward acquisition the Capitals made this offseason, Ward is a big man: he stands 6'1" and weighs 220 pounds.  Despite his size, however, he is not a particularly big hitter; Ward only laid out 67 hits last year, which would have been eighth among forwards last season on the Caps and 14th among all players on the DC roster.  As a result, you can't really expect him to throw his weight around the way Brouwer will.  He is more of a positional forechecker; that is, he uses his size to outmuscle people along the boards rather than just crush them to get the puck.  Nothing wrong with that.
Unlike Brouwer, however, Ward is a proven penalty killer who will help fill the void left by the departure of Boyd Gordon along with Jeff Halpern.  This past year Ward averaged 1:52 of shorthanded ice per game, which was fourth among Nashville forwards and would have been third among Washington forwards.  He's defensively responsible and he's willing to block shots, too: he blocked 57 pucks last season, which again was third on the Predators and would have been second on the Capitals.  As a result, you can expect that he will probably be placed on the top penalty kill unit with Brooks Laich or Jeff Halpern, which will be huge in helping to keep the Caps' PK on an elite level.
It seems as though the primary reason that the Caps signed Ward, however, was because of his success in the playoffs offensively.  Despite never scoring more than 35 points at the NHL level and averaging .41 points per game during the regular season, Ward has nine goals and 17 points in 18 career playoff games, including seven and 13, respectively, in 12 playoff games this past season.  In short, he's not the kind of guy who you can expect to do much that's very flashy in the regular season, but when the playoffs roll around, he finds another year.  Or at least that's the plan.  For $3 million a year over four years, that better be how it happens.
So where's he going to play?  Because of his relative lack of offensive punch and his need to play extensive minutes shorthanded, a top six role for Ward is likely not the plan.  You will almost surely see him man the third line right wing spot along with either Brooks Laich, Jason Chimera, Marcus Johansson, or Mattias Sjogren manning the other two spots.  The guy isn't going to get you more than 40 points and he's going to play really good defense and not do anything totally egregious.  And, at least for now, he's been known to play well in the postseason.
Sounds to me like an elite role player, and you can never have enough of them when you have the kind of offensive talent the Capitals have.

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