Is Cam Ward all to blame?

Before his terrific performance against the Leafs last night, Cam Ward was one of the main frustrations with this Hurricanes team as he’s clearly played below his standards this year. Ward has been Carolina’s back-stop ever since he took them to the Cup in 2005-06 and has been performing at a high level for the past three years (EV Sv% <.920 during that time). This year, however, he’s taken a sharp turn downward with his even strength and overall save percentages being way below the league average. He’s beginning to show frustrations with both his play and, to some extent, the team around him. So who is to blame for Ward’s struggles? Is the defense in front of him making his job harder or is the problem with Ward centered around himself? We’ll explore this after the jump.

Ward had his best season in the NHL last year and played in well over 70 games, which has led many to believe that he mileage he’s taken on in recent years is beginning to wear on him physically. That argument is further supported by the fact that the Canes were the worst team in the NHL at suppressing shots at even strength last season. Yes, the team’s defense looks slightly better on paper this year with Bryan Allen on the team full-time along with the improved play of defensive forwards Brandon Sutter and Patrick Dwyer, but this team is still at the bottom of the league when it comes to preventing shots. Ward was such a key factor to this team’s success last year that as he goes, so does the rest of the team and he has just been awful this year.

Does this mean that Ward is fully to blame for the team’s struggles? Absolutely not, because the fact that the team is surrendering 30+ even strength shots a night is a problem itself and Ward can not be expected to steal all of our games. That’s overall data, though so there’s a lot of noise clouding things up. To get a better idea of what Ward has to deal with, here is some goalie data courtesy of Behind The Net.

Year EV SV% SA/60 SF/60 GF/60 GA/60
2007-08 0.917 26.4 29.8 2.68 2.39
2008-09 0.926 26.5 29.7 2.39 2.12
2009-10 0.924 28.7 25.4 2.27 2.33
2010-11 0.927 30.8 24.9 2.39 2.41
2011-12 0.902 29.3 27.4 2.19 3.15

Ward’s actually had to deal with less shots this season and the team has given him a little more support but they aren’t scoring at all. The team is also creating and surrendering about 11 scoring chances at even strength per game when Ward is playing, so it’s not like they are getting dominated every time he’s in net. His terrible save percentage is partialy the reason why Carolina’s in the position they are but he’s also getting next to nothing in terms of goal support. What about the penalty kill? Ward stopped about 89.5% of the shots he faced on the penalty kill last season and as you can probably guess, that number has gone down by about 3%. Is he being forced to stop more shots there, too? Slightly, but not enough to make a huge difference.

Year PK SV% PK SA/60
2007-08 0.849 41.6
2008-09 0.871 47.8
2009-10 0.883 45.3
2010-11 0.895 50.4
2011-12 0.867 50.8

Just like his even strength save percentage, Ward’s save percentage on the penalty kill plummeted this year too. It hasn’t been this low since 2007-08. The difference is that he is facing around the same amount of shots on the PK as he did last year but isn’t stopping as much. However, something that should be taken into account is how great he played on the PK last year. The average PK save percentage is pretty low (not sure of what the average is off the top of my head) and Ward had the highest PK save percentage of his career despite facing so many more shots.

His PK performance might be a case of regressing towards the mean but Ward is clearly playing below his abilities at even strength and the problem is related to both him and the defense in front of him. The penalty killers an defense aren’t doing their job and he can’t be expected to stand on his head all the time like he did last season. Ward can not steal every game but he surely is more capable of playing better than he has so far this year. He is playing well below his standards right now but I have a feeling that he will rebound soon. Ward is a very good goalie and still only in his late 20’s, so it’s not like he’s completely washed up. Goaltender performance is very team-dependant and can be unpredictable and Carolina’s seeing that first-hand….but not in a good way.