As frustrated as he was at giving up four goals, even if he could hardly be expected to stop some of the chances his teammates gifted Monday night, Cam Ward could at least take some solace in the improvement he could feel as the game wore on.
The Carolina Hurricanes goalie has struggled to shake loose the rust of a seven-month layoff, giving up 15 goals in 10 periods of work after Monday’s 5-3 loss to the Boston Bruins, a start to the season he described as “extremely frustrating.”
It wasn’t Ward’s fault the Hurricanes lost Monday – defensive breakdowns were to blame on the third and fourth goals, the fifth was an empty-netter, and the Hurricanes went 0-for-6 on the power play – but that didn’t make him any happier with how things have gone so far.
“Obviously it’s been a tough adjustment with the long layoff and a frustrating process,” Ward said. “I expect myself to be up to my potential right off the bat, and it’s been hard. I thought tonight was the best I’ve felt in the first few games, and I just have to keep working at it.”
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Ward has given up eight goals in the four first periods he has played this season, and the Bruins were up 2-0 within the first seven minutes. They were tough shots – one short-handed, one on the power play, both engineered by Zdeno Chara – the kind you can’t expect a goalie to stop but wouldn’t mind if he did, especially when the Hurricanes came out as sluggish as they did Monday.
Yet just as the Hurricanes stormed back to tie the score at 3 heading into the third, Ward improved as the game went on, looking increasingly comfortable and aggressive. After giving up two goals on the first five shots he faced, he allowed two on the final 31.
“He looked more comfortable for sure,” Eric Staal said. “When he’s in there, he kind of makes saves look easy. We gave him a couple point-blankers and he made them look routine, and that’s when he’s at his best.”
From a sprawling save on Nathan Horton at close quarters to a short-handed stop on a Rich Peverly breakaway, those were exactly the kind of saves Ward hasn’t been making – the kind Dan Ellis did make from the start Saturday at the Buffalo Sabres.
Ellis active in Charlotte
Not coincidentally, Ellis has been playing since October, and playing well for Charlotte (AHL). The one period Ward played in the opener was his first action since May 17 at the World Championships, and even his six days of training camp were interrupted by illness and the arrival of a new baby. If Ward has looked rusty, it’s perfectly understandable.
Perhaps less understandable to some is why Ellis wasn’t back in net Monday after his performance against the Sabres. There’s a reasonable explanation for that as well. If Ward didn’t play Monday, he’d end up sitting an entire week until Friday’s home game against the Ottawa Senators. He needs game action, and quickly, because the Canes are going to go as far as Ward can take them. Starting Ellis would have been the short-term move. Going back to Ward was the long-term play.
“He’s played well,” Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller said. “I don’t think you can fault him on some of the goals tonight.”
It looked like Ward may have turned a corner Monday as the game wore on. By the end of the first period Friday, it’ll be clear whether he did or not.