Cam Ward has had better November nights.
Then again, the Carolina Hurricanes goalie has always had more October opportunities.
Ward was the starter Thursday as the Hurricanes were beaten 5-3 by the Colorado Avalanche in Denver. The Avs, who aren’t lacking speed, scored three second-period goals – the third on a power play after a failed coach’s challenge by the Canes’ Bill Peters – and goalie Semyon Varlamov turned in a career-high 57 saves.
Ward had been rock-solid in his other starts this season. Both of them.
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With the coming of Scott Darling, brought in to be the Canes’ No. 1 goalie this season, Ward found himself in a most unusual role. Long the franchise goalie, he was relegated to being the backup as Darling started eight of the Canes’ first 10 games.
In 11 previous full seasons, Ward played in 88 total games in October. This is different.
“There’s no question it has been an adjustment,” Ward said earlier this week. “I’m doing what I can to stay sharp in practice. When you’re not playing as much you have to emphasize more the practices and trying to stay sharp.”
When the season began Oct. 10, against the Minnesota Wild at PNC Arena, Darling was in net. It was the first time Ward had not started a Canes home opener in his career, and he watched as Carolina rallied for a 5-4 shootout victory.
Ward’s first start came on the road against the Edmonton Oilers on Oct 17. He was back in his hometown and finished with 48 saves in the Canes’ 5-3 win.
“It was a lot of fun to play in Edmonton,” Ward said. “Obviously I have a lot of family and friends who still live there. When you haven’t played as much, your focus is even more dialed in, because you know you have to be ready when you haven’t seen many shots.”
Ten days later, he was back in net against the St. Louis Blues at PNC Arena. He faced 34 shots in a 2-1 loss as the Blues scored the winning goal midway through the third period when the Canes couldn’t clear the puck from their zone and Brayden Schenn had an open shot from the slot.
“Both games I was real sharp,” Ward said. “I’m trying not to put too much pressure on myself, just have some fun and go out and play. Just enjoy the fact I’m still playing and playing with a great group of guys.”
The loss to the Avs was a tough one for the group. It was 2-2 after the first period, and Colorado took charge in the second, getting goals from Blake Comeau and Gabriel Landeskog for a 4-2 lead.
Peters used his challenge on the Landeskog goal, claiming the Avs were offside crossing the offensive blue line, but the goal was upheld on review. Under the altered NHL challenge rule, an unsuccessful challenge for offside results in a delay-of-game penalty and the Avs added a power-play score by Mikko Rantanen for a 5-2 lead.
“We got the double whammy,” Peters said.
Derek Ryan’s goal late in the second gave the Canes a fighting chance, but Varlamov shut them down in the third period with 22 saves.
The Canes made a change in goaltender coaches this season, bringing in Mike Bales, who worked for the Pittsburgh Penguins – and goalies Matt Murray and Marc-Andre Fleury – on Stanley Cup-winning teams the past two seasons. He’s still getting a feel for his two new goalies, of what’s the appropriate amount of work.
Darling’s numbers through eight games aren’t dazzling: a 3-3-2 record, 2.70 goals-against average and .897 save percentage. Darling and Ward both will need to be better.
Ward, 33, said he has enjoyed being around Darling, who at 6-6 and 232 pounds all but dwarfs Ward, who is 6-1 and 185 pounds.
“We’ve established a real good friendship and support each other,” Ward said. “He’s top-notch guy, and I think he’s a real good goaltender. With his size he covers up a lot of the net. I think there’s great things ahead for Scott.”
Ward said he isn’t sure how many games he’ll be slotted into – he has never played fewer than 28 in a full season – and said there is no long-range goaltending schedule that is set.
“I think if anything it has taught me a lot of patience,” he said. “I don’t know what they have in mind, but I anticipate I will be playing the back-to-back games.”
The game against the Blues was a night after the Canes won 6-3 in Toronto. It was the first of 18 back-to-back sets for Carolina, its most since the 2013-14 season.
“It’s a tough part of the schedule, those back-to-backs,” Ward said. “The lesson has been learned, that you need both goalies to be going.”
Regardless of who’s No. 1.
Carolina Hurricanes at Arizona Coyotes
When: Saturday, 9 p.m.
Where: Gila River Arena, Glendale, Ariz.