Versatile Ward delivers valuable offense to Predators at critical time

Monday, March 14, 2011 at 11:21pm

Joel Ward never has been a guy who does just one thing for the Nashville Predators.

In recent games, though, he has done the one thing they need more than anything. He has scored goals.

The 30-year-old forward equaled his career-high in Saturday’s 4-2 victory over Colorado when he hit the net for the third straight game. His last two were game-winners.

He’ll look to extend that streak Tuesday when the Predators host the Los Angeles Kings (7 p.m., Bridgestone Arena) in the latest of a seemingly endless string of contests that are critical in terms of the playoff chase.

“I just try to get to the puck as quick as I can, go to the net and try to put my stick down,” Ward said. “… I’m just trying to make the best plays possible.”

For a team that has scored 15 fewer times than any of the others among the top 10 in the Western Conference standings, nothing is better than consistent offense.

Ward’s sudden emergence in that regard has pushed him into a tie for the team lead in game-winning goals (four) and power play goals (five). It also gave him at least 10 goals for the third straight season.

It was just over a month ago that Mike Fisher was acquired in a move that figured to bolster the Nashville attack.

After three points in his first four games, the veteran center has slowed considerably. He has gone scoreless in six straight and has just one assist in his last 10. Saturday, he battled through a minor injury in the victory over the Avalanche.

Fisher was held out of practice Monday in what was called a “maintenance” day, but coach Barry Trotz stressed that Fisher would play against the Kings.

Ward, on the other hand, seemed like one of the least likely candidates to provide a spark on the scoreboard. He went 17 straight games without a goal in November-December and another 14 straight without one before he finally scored last Tuesday at San Jose.

Then he was put on a line with David Legwand and Martin Erat.

“They’re really creative, dynamic players,” Ward said. “They can hold on to the puck and make really good plays — especially down low. It’s no secret that my job is to kind of go to the net, look for rebounds and any chances I can get and hopefully put them home.

“That’s what I’ve been focusing on a little more and hopefully get some results.”

Since he was signed as a free agent prior to the 2008-09 season, Ward’s value has been in his versatility.
He leads all Predators’ forwards in total ice time this season and is one of only three (Legwand and Erat are the others) who average more than one minute per game on both the power play and the penalty kill. He also is second among all Nashville forwards in shots on goal, blocked shots and takeaways.

In that way, therefore, it makes sense that at a time when the goals are paramount, he is the one who has delivered.

“Obviously, you have to be accountable at both ends of the ice all the time,” Legwand said. “That’s what we’re doing. Whenever we can be plus players and beat [other teams’] top lines, we’re going to be a hard team to beat.

“We’re just putting pucks to the net and getting to the net — keeping things simple — and doing the right things out there.”

Suddenly Ward is one who is putting those pucks in the net.