Making it look easy can be difficult
Posted March 28, 2011
Updated March 29, 2011
Sometimes it is hard to appreciate just how good a player is when you see him night after night. The Carolina Hurricanes fans are in that spot with goaltender Cam Ward. This season, Ward has managed to make the difficult look routine while keeping his team in almost every game in which he has appeared. He has already set career highs in saves, save percentage and minutes played, and he will more than likely shatter his mark for games played in a season.
It would be easy to write something about how at this point of his career he has better numbers than hall of fame goalies Patrick Roy and Grant Fuhr, which he does.
This could be a piece about how Ward should be included as a finalist for the Vezina trophy for his play this season, which he should.
This might be a chance to showcase the improving stats of Cam Ward, showing that he is now among the NHL elite at the position.
But this is about something else, it is about searching for something that isn’t there.
When you watch an athlete perform at a high level every night, the little imperfections seem to be bigger than what they really are. In team sports there are three positions where these flaws are amplified: pitcher in baseball, quarterback in football and goalie in hockey. When those players make a mistake, the outcome is immediate.
Pitcher hangs a curveball; watch it go over the fence.
Quarterback throws to the wrong spot; see it intercepted.
Goalie misplays a puck; observe it deposited into the net.
All those positions depend on help from their teammates, but people don’t say the left fielder's lack of range cost a team a game. I have never heard how a wide receiver isn’t clutch, and most fans don’t sit around and lament that the forward isn’t coming all the way back.
But back to Ward. This season, he has taken his game from a point where he was in the discussion of the league’s top goalies to a point where you can’t have that conversation without him. Ward is 9-1-1 in games where he faces 40 shots or more, and it is not like the Canes are winning those games 7 to 5.
It is the fact that Ward’s outstanding performance has become commonplace. Fans expect to hear Canes TV play-by-play voice John Forslund shout, “Ward says no!!”
The ten terrific saves that keep a game tied are quickly forgotten by the one that gets by.
Hosting a postgame show, I get to hear the complaints that “soft goals” lost the game. There is no arguing that a bad goal can be a back breaker, but when the final score is 2-1, how does that come back to the goalie?
The fact is every night a goal is scored that the netminder will tell you they should have, yet you won’t hear them talk about all the saves they made that kept their team in the game.
I have seen this before with goalie Dominik Hasek. He played in games knowing that if he allowed one goal, his team might not win. That is a lot of added stress on a position that is pressure packed to begin with. Although Hasek won league MVPs, multiple Vezina awards and division titles, those never diffused the comments that he let in one bad goal a game.
It is always the one that goes in that fans complain about. Never mind the fact the team would not have been in position to win without the 30 saves that came before a “bad goal."
Cam Ward already has a Stanley Cup ring and Conn Smythe trophy, maybe that is what brings raised expectations?
He has made huge strides under the tutelage of Tom Barrasso, who is teaching Ward the mental toughness that brought Pittsburgh two titles with Barrasso protecting the net.
In sports today we let the negatives overshadow the positives. In Ward’s case, it should be the positives that outweigh a perceived negative. Moving forward, Ward’s steady improvement will lead Carolina back for a chance at the Cup, and there is nothing negative about that.