CALGARY, Alberta (AP) Dropped to the fourth line by Barry Trotz, Joel Ward responded just as the Washington Capitals coach knew he would.
Ward scored two goals – including the game-winner – to lead the Capitals to a 3-1 victory over the Calgary Flames on Saturday night.
”I’ve known Joel a long time,” Trotz said. ”Sometimes, Joel recognizes when he can go a little better. It’s a great response from him.
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”You want guys to respond, not to pout. You want him to take it as something to motivate him, and he played very well.”
Ward’s second of the night 5:31 into the second period broke a 1-1 tie.
The goal was set up by rookie Michael Latta, who carried the puck deep before centering it in front where Ward, at the far goal post, backhanded it behind goalie Karri Ramo.
”Heck of a job from our line. Latts and (Liam) O’Brien played a really strong game,” Ward said. ”They work hard, but they also work smart. Both can play. Latts played quite a few games up with us last year. O’Brien had a great camp.
”We’re just having fun. I think that was key. In practice we had a couple of moments where we made some good plays, and it carried over.”
Reunited with Trotz, who he had as his coach in Nashville for his first three NHL seasons, Ward has four goals – just one behind team-leading Alex Ovechkin.
Nicklas Backstrom also scored for Washington (4-1-2), which has split the opening two games of its three-game swing through Western Canada. The Capitals will conclude their trip at Vancouver on Sunday night.
Dennis Wideman had the lone goal for Calgary (5-4-1), which earned points in its previous three games and was 4-1-1 in its previous six.
”That was probably the worst game we’ve played in a little bit, but on the other side, that team played well,” Wideman said. ”They’re forechecking a lot harder than they have in the past, backchecking a lot harder. They made it tough on us.”
Leading 2-1 after 40 minutes, the Capitals extended their edge 41 seconds into the third when Backstrom used Calgary defenseman Kris Russell as a screen and whipped a wrist shot past Ramo.
”I thought some chances came in the second, but we didn’t score and we gave them the lead, and then in the third they get the third one to sort of put us behind the eight-ball,” Flames captain Mark Giordano said. ”It was a hard-fought game but we’re definitely not happy with the way we played.”
After scoring only four goals last season, Wideman has five already this season to lead NHL defenseman. That includes goals in a career-best four straight games.
Down 1-0, Wideman tied it with 10 seconds left in the first period.
The defenseman made a nice fake at the blue line to shake off Jay Beagle and then put a shot on net that went through a crowd and eluded goalie Braden Holtby.
It was a power-play goal for the Flames, the result of a roughing penalty to Troy Brouwer, who after having Matt Stajan pinned near the Capitals bench, gave him a couple of hits in the back of the helmet.
The goal continued a trend for the Flames, whose offense has been carried by defensemen.
TJ Brodie has three goals, and the Flames have nine overall from defenseman. That is 36 percent of their total goals, the most in the NHL.
It was a much better night for Holtby than he had against Calgary last season when in two starts, he gave up six goals on 25 shots and was pulled in the first period of each game.
”It’s a long time ago,” said Holtby, who made 20 saves to improve to 3-1-1. ”Both those games, those six goals, I still remember them. They’re good goals. It wasn’t a thing about Calgary. I think we are a completely different team now.
”We weren’t worried about that at all.”
One of his best stops came against Mikael Backlund in the second period with the Capitals leading by a goal. Backlund was set up at the top of the crease by Mason Raymond but couldn’t get the puck over Holtby.
Holtby also made a sharp blocker save off Paul Byron on a breakaway halfway through the third period.
”He had a couple of saves that were pretty good but I thought the D corps was pretty strong in front of him,” Trotz said. ”Brooks Orpik was absolutely fantastic. I bet he had 10 hits. He was real strong back there, just a rock.”
Ramo, the busier of the two goalies, had 27 stops to fall to 2-2-1.
”They played well defensively,” Flames coach Bob Hartley said. ”They didn’t give us much room, but at the same time, I would have liked to see a little bit more push, to create some space and get pucks to the net and get more traffic at Holtby.
”I thought that we gave him an easy night.”
Washington struck first at 11:17 of the first period taking advantage of a mistake from Deryk Engelland, who fanned on a pass in his end. Ward reeled in the loose puck and snapping a shot past Ramo.
NOTES: The NHL record for consecutive games with a goal by a defenseman is eight. It is held by Washington’s Mike Green, who did it from Jan. 27-Feb. 14, 2009. … Other than the change in net, the Flames had the same lineup for a third straight game. Brian McGrattan, Devin Setoguchi and Raphael Diaz were healthy scratches. … Ovechkin played in his 686th game, moving him past Kevin Hatcher into ninth place on the Capitals’ career list. … Wideman’s goal was his 300th NHL point.