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.
Unless Ward goes down with an injury, one cannot expect Khudobin to see the majority of time in net for the Hurricanes this season. But as impressive as Ward has been over the years in terms of churning out 60-plus game, 30-plus win seasons, his career goals-against average is a sub-par 2.75. His performance in that category of late (2.84 in 2012-13, 3.90 in 2013-14) is becoming more and more of a detriment to fantasy teams.
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.
Follow Pete Jensen on Twitter: @NHLJensen
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