But don't look now. He has someone in his rearview mirror making a legitimate push for playing time.
That goaltender is Anton Khudobin, a 27-year-old from Kazakhstan who is one of the few fantasy goalie options worth your time on the waiver wire market in deep leagues. He signed a one-year deal with Carolina after serving as the backup to Tuukka Rask with the Boston Bruins last season.
He was a low-risk acquisition by the Hurricanes that has vastly outplayed his veteran teammate early on in 2013-14. He's also outperformed a number of high-profile fantasy goalies to this point (Henrik Lundqvist, Jonathan Quick, Braden Holtby, etc.), meaning he can be valuable to your squad as a stopgap.
Each Carolina goalie has seen two starts so far this season, but Khudobin (2-0-0) has only allowed three goals while Ward (0-1-1) has surrendered eight. On Thursday, Khudobin held the Washington Capitals in check, stopping 30 of 32 shots in a stellar road outing. The Capitals, who sported a League-best power-play conversion rate (6-for-12) coming into the game, went 0-for-5 against Khudobin.
Khudobin had limited NHL experience prior to the 2012-13 season, but put up efficient totals in wins (nine), goals-against average (2.32) and save percentage (.920) in 14 games last season with the Bruins. Khudobin (1.50, .940) has been even better this season despite a more suspect defense in front of him, turning aside 47 of a combined 50 shots faced.
Ward just doesn't look the same after being sidelined for much of last season with a knee injury. Whether or not you own Ward in fantasy, Khudobin (seven percent ownership in Yahoo leagues) is there for the taking as an insurance option.
GAA: 1.50 | SVP: 0.940
Ward is under contract this season and for two more to follow, so he's not going away anytime soon. However, Khudobin could feasibly earn a significant percentage of starts if he continues to perform at a high level.
Remember when Anaheim Ducks goalie Viktor Fasth had an unbeaten stretch to begin last season, stole time from Jonas Hiller and became a fantasy commodity in the process? Khudobin has a chance to be this year's Fasth, so make room for him by dropping your lineup's least-valuable skater while you still can.