Whether deserved or not, Carolina Hurricanes goaltender Cam Ward is the face of the franchise.
Next to captain Eric Staal, Ward is easily one of the most recognizable and beloved players amongst fans. With his recent struggles, however, Ward has been having to bank on his 2006 Conn Smythe trophy.
This is all starting to end, as Ward has shown signs of returning to form in his last few outings. Giving up the overtime goal to Milan Lucic to take a loss against the Boston Bruins aside, the acrobatic heroics that fans and teammates have come to expect from Ward are beginning to return. When fully healthy and up to strength, Ward is easily one of the best clutch goaltenders in the NHL. It’s those few times he falters that shake confidence.
The stats sheet looks a certain way for Ward, but the films and highlights tell a different story. He is often forced to make saves he really shouldn’t have to make. Hurricanes defenders will regularly screen Ward out, causing nail-biter moments. Whether this is due to an overconfidence in his goaltending abilities or simply bad defense is immaterial. It needs not to happen.
While giving up a loss in his first game back from injured reserve, there was immediately talk of trading Ward amongst some fans. This was ridiculous, but it still happened. In recent games, Ward has slammed the door shut on this talk and shown that the starting spot for the Hurricanes is his. Putting out solid performances means that the only goaltending question is what to do with the Anton Khudobin – Justin Peters situation.
Khudobin is still a good while removed from active duty. He shows flashes during practice and hopes are high. Peters, on the other hand, came up huge during Carolina’s five game homestan, and was able to push the team up to where they are now. Nothing changes the fact that Peters is an AHL goaltender, and Khudobin belongs in the NHL.
Peters vs. Khudobin will be answered in due time, but the back-to-form performance of Ward has taken care of step one of solving the goaltending problem.