Before anything else, Cam Ward is a magnificent goaltender. While he might take his lumps in the media for any number of perceived shortcomings, in the end, he is possibly the best clutch goaltender of his time.
The Carolina Hurricanes have leaned pretty heavily on Ward ever since his coming-out party in the 2006 Stanley Cup Finals. His Conn Smythe winning performance proved to the NHL this kid was the real deal. Following this, he showed his calm, calculating style and trademark level head and short memory.
Save for his injury-shortened year last season, Ward has also been a rock for the Hurricanes. One of the most forgettable members of the team is the backup goalie, thanks to Ward’s dependability.
Yet from time to time, Ward gets called out for letting stupid goals go by. This is not his fault.
Ward’s problem is not his speed in going post to post, his glove-hand reaction time or anything else. It’s the mathematics of probability and the Law Of Averages. Ward is simply facing too many shots at one time, that he shouldn’t have to.
The Law Of Averages, simply put, says that if you keep trying, eventually you’ll get your desired result. In a 10-to-15-second sequence, put enough pucks on any goaltender, one of them is going to squirt in. Ward falls victim to this far too often. He will make four highlight reel saves in a row, and then the fifth one goes in, because eventually one of them was going to.
Ward plays like a machine, but is human after all. The Hurricanes defense has historically relied far too heavily on Ward being a cyborg, which no matter how many hashtags Caniacs tweet, he isn’t. Instead of preventing the bang-bang plays in the defensive zone, or fighting to clear the zone once it happens, the defense just lets Ward do his thing. For some reason, the fans blame Ward when this goes on.
There’s no reason for Ward to make a lot of these saves when there’s defensemen like Justin Faulk, Jay Harrison and the currently injured Tim Gleason. Asking him to make big-time saves once or twice in a period is why Ward makes the money he makes. Asking him to defy probability and play like he’s entered a cheat code, is not the way hockey or math works.
To get the most out of post-injury Ward, the Hurricanes need to reorganize their defensive philosophy and begin reducing the number of rapid-fire shots they allow to happen, like in last night’s third period against the Detroit Red Wings. This is one of those intangibles that won’t show up on a stat sheet. The less unneeded shots Ward faces, the more wins you’ll see the Hurricanes notch.
Let Ward be a highlight machine when it’s warranted, not the whole game.