Over the offseason, Carolina Hurricanes’ general manager Jim Rutherford had one distinct directive: improve the league’s second-worst defense. Gone were Jamie McBain, Bobby Sanguinetti, Marc-Andre Bergeron and Joe Corvo. All were capable of contributing in the attacking zone, but all left a lot to be desired in their own end. In their place, Rutherford brought in Andrej Sekara, Ron Hainsey, and Mike Komisarek, and both Brett Bellemore and Ryan Murphy showed enough in training camp to start the year in Raleigh.
But perhaps the biggest move was one he didn’t make. After missing most of 2012-13 with a sprained MCL, Cam Ward has come back in a big way.
“Last season obviously is one I’d like to forget,” said Ward. “I feel confident I’ve done everything I can this summer to get my body in the best shape I possibly can to have a healthy season. I want to make a big impact on this hockey team and let my play do the talking.”
Oddly enough, despite the retooled defense, the Hurricanes are giving up more shots per game this season. But rather than being in the bottom two in goals against per game, the ‘Canes are nearly average. Ward might be seeing more shots, but he’s also stopping a larger percentage of them.
At times, calling the defensive play sloppy would be considered a compliment. Look no further than Tuesday night against the Chicago Blackhawks. Michal Handzus’ home run pass to Patrick Sharp split defenders Bellemore and Hainsey, and Sharp broke in alone on Ward. Goal two was a similar display of ineptitude: a failed clear led to an outnumbered chance down low and eventually into the back of the net.
Ward came up big the rest of the way, stopping the next 24 shots he faced. He — not the defense — gave his team the chance to win. That’s all you can ask.
A Lack of Offense
Though he has yet to register a win on the year, he does have three points in his four starts, all against teams who have won the Stanley Cup in the last five years. Two of those points came in the shootout, where his team has failed to score a single goal in five tries.
It’s tough to get results when there is no goal support. Through the first seven games of the season, the Hurricanes are averaging just 2.14 goals per game — half a goal fewer than last season. Eric Staal’s line, so good a year ago, hasn’t gotten off to the same start and Jordan Staal has just one assist.
The wins won’t come until the goals do.
Eying Team Canada
Ward hasn’t been shy about voicing his disappointment in not being selected for Team Canada’s initial orientation camp.
“It’s definitely in my head, yes,” he said. “Obviously I was very disappointed to be left off that list but you’ve got to look at the positives and I’m going to use that as even more motivation to prove some people wrong. Again, let my play do the talking and hopefully I can play my way on to the team.”
With no clear-cut starter, a strong season could see Ward right in the mix with Carey Price and Roberto Luongo. Ward has a wealth of international experience, winning gold and silver at the World Championships in 2007 and 2008 respectively. He was also considered for the 2010 Olympic team, but it was tough to unseat Luongo, Martin Brodeur or Marc-Andre Fleury, back when he was consistently playing at a high level.
And then there are the playoff runs. He’s out-dueled Brodeur, twice, Tim Thomas and Cristobal Huet, going a perfect 4-0 in Game 7s. When Ward is on his game, few NHL goalies are better.
Andrew Luistro graduated from Appalachian State University. An avid sports fan, he began beat writing for the Sunbelt Hockey Journal, part of The Hockey Writers Network, with a focus on the Carolina Hurricanes. Andrew also actively follows the Boston Red Sox and Carolina Panthers, among other teams. Follow him on Twitter @ndrewL7