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With Canes Struggling to Score, Ward at his Best

by Paul Branecky / Carolina Hurricanes
While the Hurricanes finally broke through in Saturday’s shootout, one goal hardly qualifies as an offensive explosion. The reason they were in a position to win it, or even get to that point, was the goaltending of Cam Ward.

Paul Branecky
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During the Canes’ two-game road trip through Dallas and St. Louis, Ward posted a .971 save percentage and a 0.92 goals-against average in addition to stopping five of six shots in two shootouts. As gaudy as those numbers are, the most impressive stat of all is that the Hurricanes were able to take three out of a possible four road points against teams with winning records while scoring a grand total of two goals – an accomplishment that reflects directly on their goaltender.

“I’m seeing the puck really well,” said Ward, who now ranks sixth in NHL save percentage (.925). “I feel like I’m probably as flexible as I’ve been in a long time, and I think that it’s helped me in the net. I’m just having some fun out there.”

As someone who bucks a normal trend and typically plays his best on the second-half of back-to-back nights, Ward characteristically saved his best for last on Saturday. In addition to making three tough stops in the shootout to set up Jussi Jokinen’s winner, he made 17 saves in the third period and four more in overtime.

The Canes will need that to continue, as they continue a record season for back-to-back games with contests in Florida Wednesday and Atlanta Thursday. One of those games would normally go to the backup on most other teams, but with the December’s spread-out schedule, coach Paul Maurice said he expects to keep rolling with his starter.

“Wins are so important, so you’ve got to be ready every single game,” said Ward. “I had some time to recharge the batteries and now we’ve got a couple more days here.”

The Hurricanes, who have scored just nine goals over their last six games, have needed every bit of what Ward has provided. The pressure doesn’t get much higher than having to shoulder such a heavy workload – only three NHL goalies have seen more rubber this season – on a team that has had trouble finding the net. Rather than getting frustrated by the lack of offensive support, Ward said that it’s actually helped his focus.

“In St. Louis you saw another confident goaltender in Halak,” he said. “In that first period we were all over him and he was making routine-looking saves out of very difficult saves. I know in order for us to win hockey games I’ve got to be better than the other goaltender on the other end. It helped me motivate myself to be better than him.”

Maurice said that last week’s changes to his forward lines were designed to help generate more scoring, but the immediate results were obviously limited. Those units will continue to get some time to gel this week, while perhaps a bigger culprit, the power play, will also get some work

The Canes haven’t scored a goal on the man advantage in six games, dating back to the Nov. 26 game in Boston, when they went 3-3. The team has gone through a drought this long just one other time since the lockout (from Oct. 31-Nov. 11 of last season), and has not been blanked for seven consecutive games since March 20-April 2 of 2004.

“Everything is being done slowly right now with a lack of confidence,” said Maurice of his power play. “It’s the opposite of our penalty kill, which has got some jump, is closing gaps, winning faceoffs and feels good. Our power play is doing none of that.”

Despite the high-flying offense of the Hurricanes’ American Hockey League affiliate in Charlotte, Maurice still feels that players on his own roster can eventually provide the answer. 

“To break out of the .500, we have some people we think should score some goals,” he said. “We’ve got a bunch of guys sitting at five and they’ve got to get to 10 a little quicker than they’re going right now.

Maurice added that Jiri Tlusty may have come close to an AHL assignment at one point, but scoring goals in two consecutive games against Nashville and Dallas helped his cause.

“I’m really excited about those guys in the minors, but it’s the minors,” said Maurice. “I watch those games too, and right now we’ve got the right mix here.”

Maurice added a recall from Charlotte could still be necessary, although it would come on defense.  Jay Harrison missed Monday's practice with an upper-body injury suffered in a fight on Saturday and is questionable to play Wednesday.

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