CALGARY - Dropped to the fourth line by Barry Trotz, Joel Ward responded just as the coach knew he would.
Ward scored twice — including the game-winner — to lead the Washington Capitals to a 3-1 victory over the Calgary Flames on Saturday.
"I've known Joel a long time. Sometimes, Joel recognizes when he can go a little better. It's a great response from him," said Trotz. "He scored two big goals for us tonight and that's what you want. 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 and gave the Capitals a lead they would not relinquish.
The goal was set up by rookie Michael Latta, who carried the puck in deep before centring it to the front of the net where Ward, at the far goal post, was able to backhand it behind Karri Ramo.
"Heck of a job from our line today. Latts and (Liam) O'Brien played a really strong game," said Ward. "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 today."
Reunited with Trotz, who he had as his coach in Nashville for his first three NHL seasons, Ward has four goals — just one back of Alex Ovechkin's team-leading five.
Nicklas Backstrom also scored for Washington (4-1-2), which has split the opening two games of its three-game road swing through Western Canada. The Capitals wrap up the trip Sunday night in Vancouver with a game against the Canucks.
The Capitals moved to within two points of the New York Islanders, who lead the Metropolitan division. Washington has a game in hand.
Dennis Wideman had the lone goal for Calgary (5-4-1), which entered the game on a hot streak with points in its last three games and a 4-1-1 record 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 tonight," said Wideman. "They're forechecking a lot harder than they have in the past, back checking a lot harder. They made it tough on us."
Ahead 2-1 after 40 minutes, the Capitals got themselves some breathing room 41 seconds in when Backstrom used Calgary defenceman Kris Russell as a screen and whipped a 40-foot 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," said Flames captain Mark Giordano. "It was a hard fought game but we're definitely not happy with the way we played."
Wideman is off to a terrific start offensively for the Flames.
After scoring only four goals last season, the veteran has five already this season to lead all NHL defenceman. That includes goals in four straight games, which is a career high.
Down 1-0, Wideman tied the game up for Calgary on the power play with 10 seconds left in the first period.
It was a much better night for Holtby then he experienced 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. 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," said Holtby, who made 20 saves to improve to 3-1-1.
His best stops were against Mikael Backlund from the top of the crease in the second period, which would have tied it. Holtby also made a sharp blocker save off Paul Byron on 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, 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," said Flames head coach Bob Hartley.
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 own end with Ward promptly reeling in the loose puck and snapping a shot past Ramo from 30-feet out.
Notes: The NHL record for consecutive games with a goal by a defenceman is eight. It is held by Washington's Mike Green, who did it Jan. 27 to Feb. 14, 2009... Other than the change in net, the Flames iced the same line-up for a third straight game - meaning Brian McGrattan, Devin Setoguchi and Raphael Diaz were healthy scratches... Ovechkin played in career game No. 686, moving him past Kevin Hatcher into 9th on the Capitals all-time list... Wideman's goal was his 300th career point.