Dodging the jinx

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 10:21 AM ET

With two of hockey's most troublesome afflictions conspiring against him, it's a wonder Cam Ward can even make it to the rink in one piece.

After all, not many starting netminders, other than maybe Ken Dryden, ever had to try to dodge the Sophomore Jinx and a Stanley Cup Hangover all at the same time.

It's not easy, and Ward's personal numbers bear that out - a 2.93 GAA and .895 save percentage are well shy of the out-of-this world performances he turned in last spring.

But the Sherwood Park product is still tied for third in the NHL with 13 wins, and that is a feat in itself.

"He's been solid for us all year," said Carolina head coach Peter Laviolette, whose goalie didn't get much support in a 3-1 loss to the Oilers last night.

HANDFUL OF SAVES

"There haven't been a whole lot of bad goals go in where you're sitting there thinking he should have had that one. There's not a lot of times where we've said our goaltending let us down."

And it didn't let them down last night.

Ward made a handful of big saves, including first period beauties on Shawn Horcoff and Toby Petersen, but his teammates couldn't generate anything against Jussi Markkanen and Edmonton's tight defence.

"I didn't think we were bad defensively," said Laviolette, whose club lost 3-0 to the Flames and 3-1 to the Oil. "But obviously we were having a hard time scoring. Offence is not coming easy for us. The chances we do get are not finding the back of the net."

Which makes goaltending all the more important. And while Ward hasn't cost them many, there haven't been many nights when he's flat out stolen them a game, either.

Despite the Conn Smythe and Stanley Cup trophies, he's never been a No.1 guy for the long haul (he only played 28 regular season games last year), so when he and the Canes sag, that's where the media microscope tends to focus.

"Truly, I've felt very comfortable all year long," said Ward. "Maybe the numbers don't always reflect that, but at the end of the day the wins are all that matter."

He admits the long playoff run and the short summer, took their toll, but he's never once tried to make it an excuse.

"It takes a lot out of you, but that's why you play. You play to win," he said. "Time was limited in the summer, but that being said, you have to hold yourself accountable - get yourself in the gym and prepare for the upcoming season."

He did, because despite his accomplishments last season, he isn't taking anything for granted this year.

NO. 1 GUY

"I'm just excited about the opportunity (to be the No.1 guy all year long)," he said.

"But at the same time I have to earn my ice time. John (Grahame) has been playing well for us also, we're pushing each other for that ice time. Whoever's playing the best is going to be in net."

But anytime he wonders or worries whether he's good enough or not, he just looks down at the ring on his left hand. "If you have an off-game or any doubts, it a good way to remind yourself that you are capable of," he said.


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