Despite reasons that are polar opposites, the two goalies that will be the first to play a 2010-11 NHL regular-season game each have plenty to prove starting Thursday.
Minnesota's Niklas Backstrom
watched his goals-against average inflate and his save percentage and win total deflate last season as the Wild tried to adapt to a new, more aggressive system under coach Todd Richards
. Carolina's Cam Ward
watched too many games from the press box as he battled a freakish leg injury and back problems that wouldn't go away.
Both optimistically believe their woes are behind them as they head into the 2010 Compuware NHL Premiere series, but time will tell if they reclaim their status as elite NHL goalies.
"People are going to have their opinions, but I'm confident in my abilities and I know the team believes in me," Ward told NHL.com Wednesday after the Hurricanes' workout here at Hartwall Arena. "I'm just excited to get a fresh start and not worry about what happened last year. Being in the position I am, I have a chance to be a big contributor to this team and it's my job to give our team a chance in games on a consistent basis. That's what I want to do."
Ward and Backstrom have proven in the past they not only can be a contributor, but the most important contributor on their respective teams.
"I'm just excited to get a fresh start and not worry about what happened last year. Being in the position I am, I have a chance to be a big contributor to this team and it's my job to give our team a chance in games on a consistent basis. That's what I want to do."
-- Cam Ward
For that reason, the expectation is for them to play like All-Stars again.
"We know that," Wild captain Mikko Koivu
told NHL.com. "(Backstrom's) work ethic and the way he prepares himself, he's doing it the same way each and every year. We as a team, we see how he plays the game and practices so we know he'll be there for us again. We have to be as good as we can in front of him to help him out."
Richards defended Backstrom's numbers last season -- 26-23-8, .903 save percentage, 2.72 GAA, two shutouts -- by calling out the play in front of him. Under renowned defensive coach Jacques Lemaire
, Backstrom was a Vezina Trophy finalist in 2008-09 with 37 wins, a .923 save percentage, 2.33 GAA and eight shutouts.
"That was creating a lot of the problems," Richards said of the Wild's defensive play, never a concern under Lemaire. "A goalie needs to trust that the guys in front of him are doing certain things."
The problem is for most of this preseason the Wild have not looked significantly better in their own zone, but Backstrom believes they've improved enough over the last little bit because they're paying close attention to the details on defense.
"I think it's going to be better," he said. "It's early, we haven't played a single game yet, but those are things we need to fix and be really good at so we are able to have some success and get to the playoffs."
Backstrom, by the way, has chosen to forget about last season.
"That's how you have to do it, but still you try to be honest and try to learn from every day," he said. "If you do everything you can, you usually don't have to look back."
Ward also wants to put last season behind him, but couldn't do that until he went to work this offseason to hopefully rectify some of what plagued him and limited him to only 47 games (18-23-5).
The leg injury, suffered Nov. 7 in Columbus when a skate blade sliced open his thigh, was an unfortunate incident. But the back problems that cost him 18 games toward the end of the season he found to be correctable by working extensively and, for the most part exclusively, on his core and his legs with stretching and Pilates.
"Being a goaltender you want to work on cardio, because I don't need to be lifting the heavy weights to bulk up," Ward said. "I got introduced to Pilates and really picked it up and found it very beneficial for me. I know I get heckled sometimes by the players, but hey, whatever works. It has really helped on my core and ultimately worked on my back."
Ward's plan is to continue his Pilates workouts twice a week during the regular season. He's been pain free so far.
"Knock on wood, I haven't had any issues since really the summer," Ward said. "Hopefully the issues I had in the past will stay in the past."
The 'Canes obviously hope that's the case. Like the Wild are with Backstrom, Carolina is banking on Ward, an unheralded rookie when it won the Stanley Cup in 2006, to bounce back in a big way.
"He's as fit as he's ever been, as strong as he's ever been," Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice
said. "So he's done everything he can, and now the question is, how will he handle an 82 game schedule?"
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl