For Joel Ward, progress came in the form of a powder blue jersey. Practicing fully with teammates Friday, the injured Washington Capitals right wing didn’t take line rushes and likely won’t play in the regular-season finale, but wearing sky blue and skating was a step forward.
“I think today might’ve been my best day so far,” Ward said just after taking off the Carolina blue jersey. “I felt good. Just got a chance to mix in a few stops and starts. That seemed to give me trouble in the past, but, yeah it’s definitely moving along. I feel pretty good, I guess. I just got some more cranking out to do, but other than that, no, today was a positive day.”
Ward has missed the past eight games with a bruised left knee suffered April 7 when he blocked a shot from Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Sami Salo. Coach Adam Oates said “I still can’t see him playing” Saturday against the Boston Bruins, but the playoffs are not out of the question if Ward’s progress continues.
Ward, who scored the Game 7, series-winning overtime goal against the Bruins a year ago, was signed two summers ago in large part because of what he can do in the playoffs.
That means there’s no doubt Ward is in the lineup, replacing someone, once he’s good to go.
“I would say that if Joel’s healthy, he’s playing,” Oates said. “He’s been one of our top nine all year long. He’s second power play, PK. He’s going to play.”
Aaron Volpatti and Jason Chimera figure to be the most likely candidates to come out once Ward is healthy. Both are left wings, but Eric Fehr has shown the ability to play that side, and Matt Hendricks can shift there from center.
The Caps’ bottom six has some versatility, but it’s stronger with Ward, who has the benefit of some time before the playoffs begin Tuesday or Wednesday to get ready.
“The time off has been crucial for me, just getting a proper rest and doing a little bit of rehab,” the 32-year-old said. “Every day, every hour is pretty crucial. It’s getting better. I’m just gonna keep my fingers crossed that I stay on that path.”
It’s a path from baby blue to game-night red, ideally.
“Hopefully we can get him out of that powder blue jersey and into a green or whatever color he’s going to be in. Blue cheese,” right wing Troy Brouwer said with a laugh. “He looks good out there, he looks smooth. Hopefully we can get him back for playoffs. He’ll be a big addition.”