The peaks and valleys of Cam Ward

The month of December has been quite a ride for Cam Ward. He’s been pulled in two games, has given up three or more goals in all but three games and has a save percentage of .882. On the flip-side, he also played two of his best games of the season against Toronto and Vancouver and has shown signs of looking like his older self. And people wonder why I never try to predict goalie performance….

It’s especially difficult to predict how a goalie Ward’s age will perform because he is in his late 20’s, which is the “prime” age for most hockey players but he also debuted at a young age so that’s worth keeping in mind. To make things even more difficult, Ward is coming off his best season as an NHL-er so his performance can really go in either direction at this point. Unfortunately for the Hurricanes, his performance has declined a ton compared to last season and while it’s not completely his fault, I’m sure no one saw him having a sub .900 save percentage this late into the season. Some people say that he’s still feeling all of the mileage that he took on last year and that’s a valid argument. He did play more minutes than any other goalie last season (4318 mins.) and saw 30+ shots in 48 out of the 74 games he played and has been under the same amount of pressure this season (has seen 30+ shots in 17 out of 32 games), so maybe this is just his workload catching up to him?

Over at Broad Street Hockey, they looked at Ilya Bryzgalov’s save percentage in line-graph form going by 10-game averages. Bryz has been awful this year and looking at how he has performed over his career and seeing his highs and lows is a good way to determine if his poor play was just a rough patch or him steadily declining. They determined that Bryz is playing the worst hockey of his career but history suggests that he should rebound. When reading that article I thought to myself “Hey, you know another great goalie who is playing bad right now? Cam Ward.” so I decided to do this experiment for myself. Every goalie can be expected to go through peaks and valleys so is Ward’s current play just one of those? We’ll find out after the jump.

Ward didn’t start being a great goalie until the 2008-09 season, in my opinion so we’re starting the sample there and ending it with his most recent performance which was Monday against the New Jersey Devils.

As you can probably guess, Ward’s most recent down turn started this season and it’s done nothing but snowball ever since that game against Dallas in early November where he let in four goals on 14 shots and was pulled. He’s had some good games since then but it’s been surrounded with bad outings that are preventing him from getting out of this rut. An example of this is was when he had that 37 save performance against the Penguins on November 12th and then followed it up by letting in four goals on 17 shots against the Flyers only two days later. We can get an even more recent example of this where he had those two great games against Toronto and Vancouver (which came after four sub-par performances) and he had a stinker against Phoenix where he let in four goals on 19 shots. The bad stretch he had to start the year has gotten him in a bit of a funk and it’ll take a string of great games to get him out of it.

Some encouraging news is that this is not the worst Ward has played in recent history as that period was during the 2008-09 season where he had six sub-.900 performances in the span of 12 games but he got through it. Will he be able to do it again is the question and history tells us that he should be able to.

Another thing Geoff Detweiler did in that sample was compare Bryzgalov’s “peaks and valleys” to a goalie with a similar career save percentage. His choice was Henrik Lundqvist and I decided to go with Pittsburgh netminder Marc-Andre Fleury. Why? Ward and Fleury have similar career save percentages and (.909), are both around the same age and made their debuts when they were 20-21. How different are Ward’s inconsistencies from Fleury’s?

Fleury’s highs and lows are much more extreme than Ward’s and his stretches of inconsistent play are a lot closer together, as well. We do see some similarities here, though. Mainly during the beginning of the sample which was during the 2008-09 season and around game 50-64 where both experienced a stretch of poor play but both picked it up soon. The difference is that Fleury’s got two different good stretches in the same time period where Ward had a string of great games.

In all honesty, I would not be surprised if a lot of goalies rolling save percentages look similar to this because goaltending is very tough to predict over time and all goalies are prone to bad play. I’m sure that Pekka Rinne and Tim Thomas’ graphs are filled with peaks and valleys like this, too.

So, in conclusion, the tough year that Ward has been going through is something that he’s had to deal with before and he’s battled his way out of it. Plus, he is only 27 so he is a long ways away from being washed up unless we have a Pascal Leclaire situation on our hands (which we do not). The last thing I did to confirm this was follow through with Broad Street Hockey’s method of doing a t-test to see how different Ward’s play this year is from his play from 2008 through last season. It came out with a probability rate of 24.1%, which is way too high to consider Ward’s play this season anything to be concerned with in the long run. We’re also dealing with a small sample size and that tends to cloud up a lot of things too.

In the end, I think Ward should be fine for the rest of his contract and we’ll see what the team decides to do with him after that.