As the Carolina Hurricanes find themselves just one position out of the Wild Card spot, they are still seven points out of that spot. With the midway point of the season approaching, Cam Ward, Eddie Lack, and Michael Leighton have had their trials and tribulations in the crease while also making their mark on the season in a positive way.
The six game road trip to start the season did no favors for the team no matter the position they played. Momentum did not swing in the slightest favor of the Hurricanes until they found their way back to Raleigh.
The Hurricanes’ nine game home point streak that began on November 12 can largely be attributed to the play of Cam Ward. Ward has gone 11-4-3 overall since that streak began, including a personal five-game winning streak, and is currently sitting on a three-game winning streak as we speak.
Lack, meanwhile, has battled a concussion and his inconsistency is one of the major issues of why he isn’t the designated starter. He is fully capable at times of playing out of his mind where he looks like he should be the starting goalie going forward — look back to his games against Chicago last year. The only game he’s played well in this year though is the one against Calgary. He played decent in Vancouver, but we all know how that ended.
So the Canes face a dilemma. Lack is only going to get better and more consistent by starting more games and playing more minutes. However, it’s Ward that is carrying the team and getting points, and right now the Canes can't afford to sacrifice points while letting Lack work into game shape.
Ward is 17th among goalies in wins. Although his month of October was relatively poor with a 1-3-1 record, he went 6-4-2 in November posting a .935 SV% and 1.74 GAA. In December he has gone 5-1-3 with a .922 SV%, 2.14 GAA, and has shutouts in both months as well.
While Ward continues his strong recent play, the backup position continues to be an enigma. The Hurricanes haven’t had a reliable backup in years. With Leighton, you know what you’re getting and he is a veteran. He’s had several solid games, but how reliable is he down the stretch? As mentioned before, Lack’s inconsistency is what makes him untrustworthy in net. Lack does have a higher ceiling than Leighton, whose best days are behind him.
Lack needs to start more for the Hurricanes to have any faith in him and for him to be more consistent, but they can’t squander away points just for Lack to get his reps in.
Ward is the best option at goalie the Hurricanes have at number one, but it does not benefit the Canes — or Ward — if they start him 70 games. He’s already started 27 in 33 games. Do you play Lack against a Western team, or a team that is certain to make the playoffs in the East like the Penguins, Rangers or Canadiens?
If Lack were to start every game the rest of the way against Western teams or teams in the East who have no chance to make the playoffs, he would start 25 games. That’s basically a 50/50 split and, although it’s reasonable in theory, he probably will start at most 15. That would give Ward 61 starts on the year, still a relatively high number, but way better than 70.
Lack is a high-risk, high-reward goalie. He’s capable of playing well; he just needs to find consistency when he’s not starting. Leighton is the backup to the backup if anything happens. He can be reliable if you need him, but he’s not who the Hurricanes are banking on if Ward isn’t in net. Ward has probably been playing his best hockey in a long time and he’s feeling himself too.
“When you’re playing well you kind of want to just keeping going,” Ward told the News and Observer. But at 32 years old, you wonder when the fatigue will set in and how the team will manage it. The Canes’ playoff hopes largely hinge on how they answer that challenge.