Carolina Hurricanes

Cam Ward Struggling Through Tough Times, Leaving Carolina Hurricanes Uncertain

Dec 10, 2013; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Carolina Hurricanes Goalie Cam Ward (30) makes a save against Edmonton Oilers Center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (93) in the first period at Rexall Place. Mandatory Credit: Chris Austin-USA TODAY Sports
Chris Austin-USA TODAY Sports
Mark JonesSenior Analyst IDecember 12, 2013

The Carolina Hurricanes' goaltending dilemma grows more complex by the week.

Just as Anton Khudobin's imminent return was about to force a decision out of general manager Jim Rutherford, Cam Ward has begun to show signs that his latest slump may be more than a standard dip in his prototypical irregularity.

And that has sent another tsunami into the team's once-obvious netminding situation.

Ward has won just one of his past four starts and hasn't posted a save percentage above .900 in five consecutive appearances:

Cam Ward's Last Five Starts
DateGameResultSavesShotsSave Percentage
Nov. 27Hurricanes at Devils4-3 W1922.864
Nov. 29Devils at Hurricanes2-5 L2631.839
Dec. 1Canucks at Hurricanes2-3 L2730.900
Dec. 6Sharks at Hurricanes5-3 W2225.880
Dec. 10Hurricanes at Oilers4-5 OTL2429.828
NHL.com

It's by far the worst stretch of 2013-14 so far for the 29-year-old longtime franchise cornerstone. Despite starting the season 0-2-3, No. 30 still posted save percentages of .920 or better in three of those five games.

However, considering Ward's enormous injury woes over the course of the calendar year, his increasingly unreliable play adds up to a tremendously destabilizing 2013 for the former Conn Smythe Trophy winner.

Since March 21, 2012, Ward has won three straight starts just oncethe final three games before his season-ending MCL sprain last spring.

This autumn, moreover, Ward has posted back-to-back games with a .900-plus save percentage just twice. He's frequently alternated between .950- and .850-ish efforts.

Until this most recent stretch.

RALEIGH, NC - NOVEMBER 29: Damien Brunner #12 of the New Jersey Devils reacts as a shot by teammate Andrei Loktionov #21 finds its way past Cam Ward #30 of the Carolina Hurricanes of the New Jersey Devils during their NHL game at PNC Arena on November 29,
Gregg Forwerck/Getty Images

Now Khudobin's long-awaited return to the healthy lineup will only add more to the puzzle. 

September 27, 2013; Raleigh, NC, USA;  Carolina Hurricanes  goalie Anton Khudobin (31) looks on before the start of the game against the Buffalo Sabres at PNC Center. The Hurricanes defeated the Sabres 1-0. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sport
James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

The former Bruins goaltender, who boasts a 16-5-3 career NHL record and started the season 2-0-0 with a .929 save percentage for Carolina, was injured on Oct. 13 and initially anticipated to miss around two weeks.

His much-extended absence has paved the way for Justin Peters' career revival and some other positives. Yet, almost nine weeks later, No. 31 is finally on the verge of reactivation—and it's going to triple the pressure on Rutherford to make a decision.

NASHVILLE, TN - DECEMBER 05: Justin Peters #35 of the Carolina Hurricanes skates against the Nashville Predators at the Bridgestone Arena on December 5, 2013 in Nashville, Tennessee. The Hurricanes defeated the Predators 5-2.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Gett
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Peters, who now sports a .924 save percentage on the season and an above-.900 performance in 10 consecutive matches, would require waivers to return to the AHL now. The floundering, goalie-lacking New York Islanders would grab him happily.

Nonetheless, this three-headed monster known as the Hurricanes' goaltending dilemma may be perplexing, but it's also not new—the issue has been debated for weeks.

What has changed is Ward's stability in Rutherford's internal judgement.

Once almost a god above the two peasants fighting for his understudy role, Ward may now be slipping into the same cauldron as the others. He'll still get plenty of opportunities to turn his ongoing slump around, but his ability to do so may be somewhat questionable.

How long will Ward's tough times continue? Could this supposed slump be merely the new median line for an injury-weakened No. 30?

Only time will answer those questions—and determine his fate with the Hurricanes, as well.

 

Mark Jones has been a Carolina Hurricanes featured columnist for Bleacher Report since 2009. Visit his profile to read more, or follow him on Twitter.

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