Joel Ward in the lineup is a good thing for the Nashville Predators. When the 29-year-old forward is on the score sheet it is even better.
Having missed the previous three games with a groin injury, Ward provided a decisive reminder on both accounts Saturday when he had a goal and an assist in the Predators’ 4-3 victory over the Atlanta Thrashers.
Nashville is now 18-0-0 this season when Ward scores a point and 19-2-2 since the start of last season when he has a goal.
“Sometimes you don’t realize how much you miss a guy until he’s not there,” coach Barry Trotz said. “I’ve recognized that (with Ward) in the last year and a half. He stepped right in (Saturday), worked real hard and made a difference.”
The Predators have become increasingly healthy at forward in recent weeks, and Ward’s return was not the last.
Marcel Goc, who has not played since Jan. 22, will be back on the ice Tuesday, when Nashville faces Phoenix (7 p.m. Sommet Center).
Ward has been sidelined three different times this season. The first cost him a significant chunk of training camp and the first two games of the regular season. In early January he missed a pair of contests and then missed the last three contests of the most recent road trip after he was hurt at Phoenix.
The last two times, he has stepped right in and started scoring. He had a goal Jan. 11 at Vancouver – a 3-2 victory – and then had his two points against the Thrashers.
“I think it’s a lot of mental, trying not to think about (the injury) too much,” Ward said. “You just have to kind of believe in your abilities and prep yourself physically by staying in the best shape you can.
“Coming off an injury can be tough to do, … but you just stay focused and just ease into it.”
It’s possible that he eased into it a little too much at the start of the season.
His first six games comprised the season-long six-game losing streak, which put Nashville in an early hole. He did not have a point in any of those contests.
Similarly, Jordin Tootoo has one assist in the last five games after having missed a month with a broken foot. Jason Arnott has just two goals in his last 18 appearances, which have come after he sat out a game at Calgary on Dec. 19.
Ward’s first point was an assist Oct. 22 at Ottawa, where the Predators snapped that skid with a 6-5 victory.
“Most guys take a little bit,” Trotz said. “Like (Tootoo) is slowly getting back. He’s not up to par. You can see it in his hands; you see it in his skating.
“Some guys can step in right away and keep their game pretty healthy, if you will, and others’ just need a repair.”
• Center Colin Wilson was named the American Hockey League Rookie of the Month for January. The Predators’ top pick in 2008 had 20 points (seven goals, 13 assists) and a plus-5 rating for the month.
Prior to January, he had five points in his first `16 games with the Predators’ top minor league affiliate.
“When he first started having success we didn’t want to bring him up right away because I don’t think that’s right,” Trotz said. “You have to give a guy a lot of confidence and let him have long-term success.
“He’s played very well. He’s in our minds in terms of putting himself in a position to be a call-up.”
• Forward Nick Spaling was reassigned to Milwaukee on Sunday after having been with the Predators since Dec. 15.
“He’s done a really good job on the penalty kill, he’s a guy you can move in different situations,” Trotz said. “I have a lot of trust in him, but you don’t want to pigeon-hole him in a pure defensive role. He’s got a little bit of offensive skill … so for his development he should go down and play and find a little bit of that offensive game.”
• Goalie Dan Ellis missed Monday’s practice to be with his wife Katie for the birth of their second child.