Under Pressure: Cam Ward

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This is part of Hurricanes day on PHT…

Cam Ward’s career with the Carolina Hurricanes has been an interesting one to say the least.  

After signing a two-year, $6.6 million contract extension with the team over the summer, he is getting ready to enter his 12th season with the team. Even though he is now the franchise record holder in wins, shutouts and games played by a goalie, it would still not be unfair to say that his career with the team probably hit its peak when he was a 21-year-old rookie.

It was during that postseason, after appearing in just 28 regular season games, that he went on an incredible two-month hot-streak that helped lead the Hurricanes to their first and only Stanley Cup championship.

In the decade that has followed he has never really come close to matching that performance, but has managed to remain with the franchise — and for the most part keep his starting job — and is now the longest-tenured member of the team. Loyalty and familiarity can be a good thing, but only if the performance is there to back it up and justify it. In recent years the performance has not always been there for Ward.

The Hurricanes finished last season 19th in the NHL in goals against even though they were a top-10 possession team (for the second year in a row) and one of the best teams in the league when it came to preventing shots on goal (and total shot attempts) with one of the youngest blue lines in the NHL. The biggest thing that held them back was the performance of their two goalies, Ward and Eddie Lack, as they finished with the second worst save percentage in the NHL (.902). A league average goaltending performance on the same number of shots on goal shaves around 20 goals off of that total. That could make a huge difference in the standings. 

Ward himself has been in the bottom third of the league among goalies for a few years now, sitting 49th with a .910 save percentage out of the 74 goalies that appeared in at least 50 NHL games since the start of the 2011-12 season.

Even though Ward ended up taking a pay cut to remain with the Hurricanes, probably one of the few spots where he would have had an opportunity to get significant playing time, the pressure is going to be on for him to have a big season in net because his play could make or break their season.

If he remains at the same level he has been at over the past few years, which is in the bottom third of the league among goalies, he could not only see himself losing even more playing time to Lack, but also holding back a young and improving team.

But if he can just help give them an average or even slightly above average performance in net, it could easily get the Hurricanes closer to a playoff spot.

Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.

Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

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MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

“I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

“I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

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SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.