The goaltending issues for the Carolina Hurricanes are reaching a tipping point. The puck has to stop here.
Against the Washington Capitals last night, Carolina Hurricanes goaltender Eddie Lack was not put in a position to succeed. Just coming back from a two month absence from a few concussions, it was always going to be tough to get back into the flow. Having your first game back be in Washington against a dynamite Capitals team was just poor decision making on the part of the Canes coaching staff.
Yes, it was a tough situation for Lack to find success. At the same time, Lack did himself no favors. His rusty movement and positioning were directly connected to the first 3 Caps goals. He ended up conceding a total of 5 on only 28 shots. It wasn’t all his fault, but even after not playing since November, it was still a gawdy performance from the Canes back up.
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Cam Ward has been the first name in the Canes lineup every night, not due to quality, but rather necessity. The lack (terrible pun, I am so sorry) of any tangible depth at the goaltending position in Carolina is staggering. Michael Leighton has played great in Charlotte, but has proven to be just a bench warmer with the Canes. Similarly, both Daniel Altshuller and Alex Nedeljkovic have seen time in the show (Altshuller hasn’t even seen the ice), but neither can be relied upon as serious options to help out the Hurricanes right now.
So, considering Lack’s awful play last night, the Hurricanes are stuck with Ward. With the amount of minutes he posts, there is serious risk of fatigue and injury for a guy that has experienced similar situations in the past. It may already be setting in too. His numbers haven’t been as great the last month as they were in November and December. Before last night’s loss, Cam Ward had played 37 of the last 40 games for Carolina. So far this year, Ward has put in workhorse minutes, but his statistics don’t justify that kind of work. Of the 8 goalies who have started more than 41 games, Ward has easily the worst save percentage at .907.
For whatever reason, Carolina has consistently leaned way to hard on Ward to carry them into the postseason. In his career, Ward has sniffed 70 games played 4 times, including in 2011 when he played a whopping 74 games. Of those seasons, Carolina only made the playoffs once, which was 2009. Right now, Ward is trending towards playing 70-71 games. Applying Ward’s numbers he is boasting right now to that amount of games leaves Carolina in this playoff bubble limbo they currently reside in.
Who Do You Turn To?
With no sign of consistent back up goaltending anywhere, Ward will stay in net. As we have seen though, that just isn’t sustainable or successful enough. It might behoove general manager Ron Francis to make a trade for a goalie at the deadline. Luckily, there are options here. With the expansion draft coming, teams with great tandems will look to move one of there goalies. Pretty big names like Marc-Andre Fleury and Ben Bishop have floated around as guys who might get moved so their respective team’s can protect their younger goaltenders.
The Canes would receive a few benefits from acquiring a goalie. For starters, at the bear minimum, it will give Cam Ward a chance to rest. More likely though, it will spark some competition for the net from the new guy and Ward, hopefully resulting in great goaltending down the stretch for a playoff push. Secondly, it allows Carolina to leave options in who to expose in the expansion draft. Carrying three net minders allows some flexibility. Lastly, though more of a hopeful scenario, you’d acquire a guy who can bridge the gap between franchise goalie and future franchise goalie. Everyone in Carolina is waiting for Nedeljkovic, but it is going to take a few more years. Having a suitable transition goalie over that stretch would be vital in stabilizing the Canes net until Ned really breaks through.
Until that hypothetically happens, Carolina will roll with Ward as much as possible. Maybe that’s enough? You never really know until the games are played. All indications are that it probably won’t be.