After a difficult first half of the season that included 13 games out of the lineup with a nasty leg laceration, it appears that goaltender Cam Ward
is rounding back into top form.
Over his last four games, Ward has posted a .931 save percentage and a 2.18 goals-against average – numbers that would currently rank second and sixth in the NHL, respectively, if posted over the course of the season. He was a huge contributor in the Hurricanes’ most recent game against the New York Rangers, which they were able to win despite scoring just one goal in regulation time.
“I think I’m starting to feel like my old self,” said Ward. “I feel relaxed and more confident in the net, and I think that’s a matter of playing when you miss over a month and try to get back into the swing of things.”
While acknowledging that the injury limited his physical movement somewhat when he returned to action in New Jersey on December 9, Ward said that he struggled more with the mental aspects of the game. Being away for so long was new to the goaltender, who is accustomed to playing the majority of the team’s games and had previously not missed more than four contests in a single season due to injury.
“You want to be right back where you were before, but it’s tough,” said Ward of a good-but-not-great stretch of games that followed his return to action. “You get caught thinking about what you need to do when you miss some time instead of just going out there, doing your thing and reacting. I find that I play my best when I’m not thinking at all and I just go out there and play. I’ve been doing that for the last few games, and I’m getting better results because of it.”
As someone who always expects a lot from his franchise goaltender, coach Paul Maurice said that while Ward is playing at his highest level since the injury, he has not yet reached the form that enabled the Canes to make a run at the playoffs and subsequently reach the Eastern Conference Finals last season.
“He is, in his last handful of games, playing like he did at the start of the season, when he was very good for six or eight games,” said Maurice. “Then there was a lull where he was as good as our team was, then the injury. He came back better than I expected him to come in off the injury. I still don’t think he’s at the form of last year, but I don’t think he’s far from it.”
The Canes, who still find themselves at the bottom of the table when it comes to the total amount of goals scored, will need Ward to be at his best in order to improve their fortunes this season. That’s especially true now that a handful of forwards struggle with injuries of their own.
Scott Walker underwent shoulder surgery on Tuesday and is expected to miss 4-6 weeks. He joins Erik Cole and Chad LaRose on injured reserve – two players who are now not expected to return until next week at the earliest. In addition, Sergei Samsonov has been ruled out of Thursday’s game at Nashville as he continues to deal with a nagging upper-body ailment.
That will prompt the team to turn to Albany of the AHL for help up front, with Zach Boychuk and Jiri Tlusty expected to rejoin the team in time for Wednesday’s practice at the RecZone.