Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
The Canes need to fix their goaltending problems - and fast - before the season gets away from them.
Serviceable goaltenders? Sure. Guys you would trust your playoff future to? Maybe, maybe not, depending on the team in front of them.
Players that have no business being in the same breath as a Conn Smythe Trophy winner and Stanley Cup champion? You betcha.
But fifteen games in, those are a few of the goaltenders whose company Cam Ward keeps in the list of the NHL's goaltending statistics - none of whom, it should be pointed out are making anywhere near Ward's $6 million salary. And after his second straight clunker Thursday night against Winnipeg, to borrow a phrase from a rather familiar marketing campaign, It's Time to start asking some tough questions.
No one should question whether Ward has the ability to be a world-class goaltender. The man literally carried his team on his back to an appearance in the Eastern Conference final in 2009, and he's shown time and again that he can bounce back from adversity and play lights out on any given night.
But the lockout changed things drastically. With essentially half of a season out the window, every game is twice as important. What would normally be a four-point game really needs to be treated as an eight-point game. Since all games are played in conference, wins are of paramount importance, and the opportunities to cover up poor performances are in painfully short supply.
Even the best of starts can be torpedoed by a poor run of games in a 48-game season. Just ask the San Jose Sharks, whose 7-0 start has evaporated into sixth place in the Western Conference. It's a true roller coaster: tough sledding going uphill, but very, very easy to gain momentum on the way down.
With every game important, and the Hurricanes clinging tenuously to a division lead with a point total that would have them no higher than third place in any other division in the NHL (and, in fact, would have them dead last in the Northeast Division), the Canes cannot afford to let Ward shake out of his slump in game action.
Dan Ellis, in limited action, is up near the top of the NHL goaltending statistics, and has more than proven his ability to steal games as he did most notably against Buffalo and Ottawa a few weeks ago. In the compacted schedule, the ability for a goalie to go on a hot streak and steal points for his team is more important than ever.
At this point, if given the choice between Ellis and Ward going on a hot streak for 2 or 3 games, which would you think would be more likely to do so?
With back-to-back games coming up this weekend, including a
four eight-pointer against Tampa Bay tomorrow night, the Canes have used up their cushion. A loss to Tampa will likely knock the Hurricanes out of a playoff position altogether, so the goaltending needs to be ready to answer the bell.
Ward deserves the benefit of the doubt that he will snap out of this. But the Canes simply cannot afford to submarine this season while waiting for him to do so.
Your move, Kirk Muller.