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Gameday: Hurricanes vs. Capitals

by Michael Smith / Carolina Hurricanes
The prevailing message within the locker room in the last week has been that the Carolina Hurricanes, while not seeing the consistent results, are pleased with their consistent effort.

Michael Smith
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It is no coincidence that Cam Ward has been at his best in the last six games, too.

Ward has surrendered two goals or less in each of his last six games, leading to a save percentage of .947. His highest marker came Tuesday against Pittsburgh when he stopped 40 of 41 shots, a .976 save percentage. In the six-game stretch, Ward is 3-2-1.

“He’s been terrific for us all year, as he always is,” defenseman Jamie McBain said. “We know that if he is seeing those first and second shots that he’s going to make those saves.”

“Our team defense has been better, and he’s made the big saves when we’ve needed them,” forward Brandon Sutter said. “Our goals against has been a huge improvement from where it was a month, even two months ago. Now we’ve got to find a way to start putting pucks in the net.”

In their last two games, including Sunday in Washington, the Canes have netted just one goal per game. Even with Ward’s numbers, 1-0 wins are few and far between in today's NHL. The last time the Hurricanes won a 1-0 game at home, Kevin Weekes was the goaltender, and it was the Minnesota Wild's third season in the League. That was March 2003.

That said, the Hurricanes come into tonight with the mindset of not wanting to change a lot from six days ago in Washington. They drastically outshot (44-24) the Capitals, played a physical game (21 hits) and were about even in the face-off circle. But, they didn’t win. That’d be the main thing they’re looking to change tonight.

“We felt really good about our game in Washington,” McBain said. “We didn’t get the result we wanted, but we controlled most of the play. We made them play the style we’re more accustomed to.”

“We played well, and we felt we desereved a better fate,” Sutter said. “Sometimes that happens, though. Their goalie played well, too. We just want to bring the same effort tonight.”

Tomas Vokoun did have one of his most impressive outings of the season, making 43 saves on 44 shots. He is expected to start again tonight, and has comparable numbers to Ward in his last 11 appearances: 2.01 goals against average and .936 save percentage.

The task on hand for the Hurricanes is to solve Vokoun and keep their goaltender hot, a challenge for the Sutter line against threats like Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin, both easily point-per-game players against Carolina. Washington has also taken all three meetings between the team this season; the only meeting at the RBC Center ended in a lopsided 5-1 decision for the Caps.

“If there’s a time when they have a break or time to shoot, you want to make sure you get in front of them,” Sutter said. “The more you get in their way, the harder it is on them and the easier it is on Wardo.”

Head coach Kirk Muller credits the work of the five players in front of Ward for bringing more attention to the defensive side of their game, especially in the last couple of weeks.

“He’s really bringing his game,” Muller said of Ward. “It’s a combination of that, and he’ll say the same: the guys are doing a good job, too, in front of him. Overall, I think our defense is doing a good job in front taking the second and third rebounds away. But all in all, I think [Ward’s] game is really going in the right direction.”

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