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Friedman: Michael Leighton to the Olympics?; Cam Ward’s new gear and new strategy

Three of the 30 Thoughts this week concern the Hurricanes, so let’s take a look.

Cam Ward came way out to rob Andrei Markov on Friday. Is it part of a new Canes defensive mindset?

For your pregame entertainment tonight, Elliotte Friedman did a deep dive onto the Canes goaltending in his 30 Thoughts column today, but in two very different contexts:

First: Michael Leighton, Olympian?

Michael Leighton is up with the Carolina Hurricanes as Eddie Lack recuperates from a concussion. Should the NHL not go, he’d be the kind of player in line for a shot on the Olympic team.

“It would be awesome,” he said. “It’s the one thing I’ve never had a chance to do, play for Team Canada. But I still think (the NHLers) are going.”

Then, he added, “Tell them I’ll be the fifth goalie.”

Later in the column, Friedman discusses Cam Ward’s new equipment. Could this have been the reason he struggled to start the season, as he got used to how to best play with his new equipment? Makes a bit of sense, doesn’t it?

One netminder who switched equipment last summer? Cam Ward. Ward went to Bauer pads and found them to be lighter than his previous ones. For an aggressive, active goalie, it’s a subtle but important change. He’s got a new glove, too, and, apparently an adjusted off-ice routine.

(He wasn’t available to chat about it Tuesday morning in Toronto, as he is starting that game.)

Ward is coming off a phenomenal stretch where he’s beaten Montreal, San Jose, Washington and Winnipeg. When he’s on his game, you can tell shooters have no idea what he’s going to do.

And finally, there’s a bit of an adjustment taking place with the Canes’ defense, which is asked to do things a bit differently than most other teams. It seems that Steve Smith asks his defenders to back off the shooter, so if you wondered why Ward came so far out last Friday to deny Andrei Markov, that could explain it. This isn’t an exact fit, because obviously Markov is trying for a one-timer, but if Ward is comfortable coming out to be aggressive as it is, this save makes a lot more sense.

The challenge for Carolina’s defenders in front of Ward is you have to think differently than you’ve been programmed. The Hurricanes set it up so Ward is responsible for the shooter and the defence must take the weak-side. So there will be situations where an opponent is coming at the net with the puck, and a defender instinctively wants to go at him, but isn’t supposed to. Those are smart young D learning to adjust.

(In case you forgot, enjoy this one again at the top of the post.)