After a slow start to the season, Carolina Hurricanes goaltender Cam Ward has caught fire in recent weeks.
In his last five games, Ward has a sterling 1.00 goals-against average, a .962 save percentage, and has not given up a single point in the standings to the opposition. What’s even more impressive is that the teams he’s stymied included the league-leading Montreal Canadiens, the 2016 President’s Trophy-winning Washington Capitals, the defending Western Conference champion San Jose Sharks, and two offensively talented teams in the Toronto Maple Leafs and Winnipeg Jets.
The last time Ward recorded a five-game win streak was in November of 2014. Ward is 6-1-2 in the month of November, after starting the year 1-3-1.
How is this possible? Ward says he’s able to let things go, and that includes a porous first month of the season where he looked like the same Ward of recent vintage who gave up easy goals.
Take a look at the players Ward has stymied lately: Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Joe Pavelski, Brent Burns, Brendan Gallagher, Alex Galchenyuk, Shea Weber, Patrik Laine, Mitch Marner, James van Riemsdyk, Auston Matthews. Those eleven players have totaled 175 points. Against Ward, they all put up goose eggs.
However, a goaltender is nothing without the team in front of him.
The Hurricanes have not surrendered a power play goal in those five games, killing off 12 consecutive penalties in their wins. The Canes have the league-leading penalty kill at 91.8% having killed 23 consecutive penalties, and haven’t allowed a goal down a man in the entire month of November.
The Hurricanes have had better zone exits from their own territory and have seen role players make significant contributions. The defense has learned how to hold a lead and not collapse. Jaccob Slavin currently leads the team with 32 blocked shots and Brett Pesce isn’t far behind with 30.
The Hurricanes also have allowed the seventh-fewest shots on goal per game in the league. A defensive collapse often times leads to a lack of confidence in a goaltender, and the Hurricanes do not have that issue at the moment.
“He’s been unbelievable and the biggest reason for our recent success,” Jeff Skinner told the News & Observer. “You look the saves he’s made, the timely saves, and being consistently solid throughout the game, and game to game. He’s a calming influence, which gives the players in front of him a lot more confidence.”
The issue, though, is if Ward will be able to maintain consistency. Ward doesn’t have the best track record of consistency in net, albeit most of the time because of injury. Last season Ward suffered a concussion in January and a minor lower-body injury in Feburary. However, he recently told the media he felt like he is currently in the best shape of his entire career.
Cam Ward is no Braden Holtby or Carey Price, but when the team in front of you doesn’t leave you out to dry, that plays a significant factor. This is one of the better Hurricanes teams that have played in front of Ward in recent years and it has made a huge impact in the team’s overall success.
If the team in front of Ward implodes, expect him to go down with the ship. He can still make the highlight-reel saves he’s been known to make over the years and they can spark a team’s momentum, but they generally do not make or break a team’s season. For Ward to sustain his current form as an elite goaltender and spark a run toward a playoff spot, he needs his team to remain confident and consistent as well. He can’t do it alone.