For many years, the Carolina Hurricanes have relied on Cam Ward to carry the bulk of their goaltending workload, often starting him in 60-70 games if he is healthy. With the compacted schedule brought on by the lockout-shortened season, it was expected to be business as usual for the Hurricanes this season too. Cam Ward has struggled early on, and backup Dan Ellis has performed well. The strong play of Ellis now gives Carolina the ability to rest Ward more often and still remain competitive. In his first start (and second outing) of the season, Ellis turned aside 40 shots in a 3-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres. Ward was pulled in the season opener after surrendering four goals to the Florida Panthers, and Ellis stopped 12 of the 13 shots he faced in relief.
A free agent after the 2011-12 season, Ellis attracted little attention from NHL teams and signed with the AHL’s Charlotte Checkers during the lockout. He won eight games for the Hurricanes’ affiliate, and was offered an invite to training camp and eventually a contract. Being able to play regularly during the lockout appears to have been great for Ellis, who had previously played for the Anaheim Ducks, Tampa Bay Lightning, Dallas Stars and Nashville Predators. If he can continue his strong play, he may work his way into a starter’s job somewhere next season. He tends to play better in games where he faces more shots, and that will definitely be the case in Carolina this season as the defense has allowed at least 25 shots in each of their four games.
If the Hurricanes aim to reach the playoffs, a tandem of proven goaltenders may prove much more beneficial than riding Ward for 35 or more starts.