The Carolina Hurricanes suddenly have a goaltending quandary.
Cam Ward, the Canes’ No. 1 goalie, is struggling to make saves. The same is true for Eddie Lack.
As Carolina faces the Anaheim Ducks in a road game Friday, Canes coach Bill Peters has a dicey decision to make: go with Ward again in net after a shaky start against the Dallas Stars or turn to Lack, who relieved Ward against the Stars but allowed a soft goal in the final seconds of a 6-5 loss and has been erratic most of this season.
Ward is a proven commodity, even if he is becoming an increasingly polarizing figure among many Canes fans. Lack was acquired by Carolina in the offseason and given a new two-year contract, but has not had many opportunities to play and has been inconsistent when he does.
“Obviously it hasn’t gone the way I wanted it so far,” Lack said this week. “I know I can play a lot better and I will keep working hard and stay positive. Obviously some days are harder than others to stay positive, but that’s really the only thing you can do.”
Ward was efficient Saturday as the Canes topped the Montreal Canadiens 3-2 at PNC Arena. He gave up a soft goal early but kept his composure and finished with a season-high 36 saves.
The Canes then scored five times Sunday to rally and beat the Arizona Coyotes. Ward again was the winner but gave up a goal in the opening minute and allowed four on 23 shots in a 5-4 victory.
At Dallas, Ward’s night ended after one period. The Stars scored on their first two shots and four of eight in the period for a 4-0 lead, and Peters brought in Lack to start the second.
Trailing 5-1 in the third, the Canes made a big push as defenseman Justin Faulk scored twice on the power play, forward Phil Di Giuseppe scored his first NHL goal and Jeff Skinner ripped a shot from the left wing for a 5-5 tie. But in the final seconds of regulation, with Dallas on the power play, the Stars’ Patrick Sharp got off a low shot from the right wing that Lack couldn’t handle – a collective gut punch for the Canes.
“Our goaltending was better earlier in the year but we couldn’t score enough goals,” general manager Ron Francis said Thursday. “Recently we’ve scored more goals and we’re not getting the goaltending we need. But I believe they’ll both bounce back.”
The Canes (10-14-4) hoped to have both goalies turning in quality starts at this point of the season. Ward, 31, is in the final year of a long-term contract and Lack, 27, was obtained from the Vancouver Canucks to push Ward and be ready to take over as the No. 1 should the Canes decide to part ways with Ward.
The numbers are pedestrian for Ward and poor for Lack. Ward has a 9-8-3 record, 2.73 goals-against average and .893 save percentage. Lack, in nine appearances, is 1-6-1 with a 3.50 GAA and .863 save percentage.
Ward ranked 46th and Lack 67th among 72 NHL goalies in goals-against average through Wednesday’s games. In save percentage, Ward was 62nd and Lack 69th.
Lack said in his two years with the Canucks he had a better handle on when he would be starting games while serving as a backup — first to Roberto Luongo, then Ryan Miller last season before Miller was injured.
“I could go into practices and prepare myself for that start, while here it is more day to day and I just try to do what I can to be ready on a daily basis,” Lack said.
Peters has said he would like to get Lack into more games and bunch some together, allowing the Swedish goalie to find a rhythm.
“I was feeling great in training camp and then it was two and a half weeks before my first start,” Lack said. “Then it’s been going like a week or two weeks. Obviously it’s not optimal. But I’ve been talking to (Peters) and I feel he’s trying. I appreciate that he talks to me and keeps me in the loop.”
Ward and captain Eric Staal are in the final years of their contracts and due to become unrestricted free agents in July. Both have said they would like to sign extensions and stay with the franchise while realizing Francis must do what he believes is best for the organization.
“I’ve said from the start of the year I just want to go out there and play and have fun,” Ward said this week. “But we’re human, too, and this is my career and it would be nice to have something happen. But at the same time you have to go out there and perform and earn your ice time, earn your next contract. I’ve got to get my game to the level to be rewarded with that.”