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Canes Set for Future with Staal, Ward

Wednesday, 06.3.2009 / 10:22 AM ET / Tracking the Storm
By Paul Branecky
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Canes Set for Future with Staal, Ward
They’ve seen the highest of highs, but like most young players, the challenge for Eric Staal and Cam Ward has been consistently playing up to their potential over long periods of time.

Paul Branecky
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From this past season’s All-Star break up until the entire team ran out of steam in the Conference Finals, both players seemed to accomplish just that.

During that span, Staal scored 29 goals and 53 points in 48 games, while Cam Ward posted a 2.26 goals-against average and .923 save percentage with six shutouts as the Hurricanes went 30-16-2. Over an 82-game regular season, that pace would have put Staal in second place in the NHL with 49 goals and in the top 10 in overall points. For Ward, it would have placed him among the league leaders in nearly every category and made him a sure-fire Vezina Trophy finalist.

They each had a few huge nights during the team’s run, but not enough to skew those numbers and hide some quiet stretches. They were they team’s best players nearly every single game.

Although lofty, each player is capable of putting up those stats on a regular basis, not just in short spurts.  After going through growing periods that are to be expected from players that are still just 24 and 25 years of age, the feeling is that each player has turned the corner towards being able to consistently dominate games – a prospect that, if true, bodes extremely well for the future of the Carolina Hurricanes.

“When you have Staal and Ward as your two guys to build around, this franchise is going to be solid until they run down,” said Ray Whitney. “If you can continue to put good supporting casts around them, I think you’re going to have a successful franchise for a long time coming ahead.”

What changed this season? For one, they have more experience, which almost always improves that consistency over time. However, philosophical changes brought about by the team’s new coaching staff in midseason seem to have done both players a world of good.

For Staal, effort was never a question, but he needed help learning to channel his energy in a direction that would help the team as a whole. Head Coach Paul Maurice often spoke of how Staal, burdened with the pressure of trying to be a difference maker night after night, would often try too hard to score goals at the expense of responsible defensive play. 

The belief was that if Staal could play a more patient game, the offense would actually increase, which turned out to be the case. His regular season points per game after the coaching change was 1.05, as opposed to just 0.6 beforehand.

“I think I figured out what makes me good night in and night out,” said Staal. “It kind of happened in January or February right after the coaching change where I maybe figured my game out a little more. I was really satisfied with the way I played in the second half and throughout the playoffs, so hopefully I can start with that right away at the beginning of the year and help this team get another chance at the Cup.”

There were a number of factors in Ward’s turnaround. First, it was the calmness that came from knowing that he would be the team’s rock no matter what, as he started 68 of a possible 71 games under Maurice, including all 18 playoff contests. In the rare occasion that he was pulled from a game due to poor performance by either himself or the team in front of him, there was little question that he would be the starter at the next opportunity.

“In the last quarter I was really happy with the consistency and knowing that even if things were to go wrong that I was going to be going back into the net,” said Ward, who sat for seven of 25 games prior to the coaching change. “I just had that confidence from the team and the coaching staff.”

That translated into an extremely heavy workload, but one that nearly every goaltender covets.

“If you look at our schedule it was a really busy schedule, but at the same time playing every other day kept you into that routine and into that rhythm,” he said. “Especially when things are going well, all you want to do is get back into that net.”

There was also the much-celebrated work of Tom Barrasso as his full-time goaltending coach and an overall change in the team’s system, which helped to ease the nightly burden that Ward was subjected to. His shots against per game only went down by two after the coaching change, but the number of high-percentage ones certainly decreased by more than that.

“When Mo came in, it was a different set of eyes and different opinions,” said Ward. “One of the areas that he really helped out was the defensive zone, and as a goaltender it helped me a lot knowing that our team was emphasizing more on our defensive zone and taking away the quality chances that we had been giving up earlier in the season.”

In his postseason press conference, General Manager Jim Rutherford remarked that, “Nothing other than Eric Staal and Cam Ward are cast in stone at this point.” That wasn’t meant to be a warning to the rest of the team heading into the offseason, but rather a testament to the importance of those two players to the team’s long-term future.

Now that those two have proven themselves worthy of that designation as franchise players, that future should be very bright.

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STANDINGS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 p - WSH 82 56 18 8 252 193 120
2 x - PIT 82 48 26 8 245 203 104
3 y - FLA 82 47 26 9 239 203 103
4 x - NYR 82 46 27 9 236 217 101
5 x - NYI 82 45 27 10 232 216 100
6 x - TBL 82 46 31 5 227 201 97
7 x - PHI 82 41 27 14 214 218 96
8 x - DET 82 41 30 11 211 224 93
9 BOS 82 42 31 9 240 230 93
10 CAR 82 35 31 16 198 226 86
11 OTT 82 38 35 9 236 247 85
12 NJD 82 38 36 8 184 208 84
13 MTL 82 38 38 6 221 236 82
14 BUF 82 35 36 11 201 222 81
15 CBJ 82 34 40 8 219 252 76
16 TOR 82 29 42 11 198 246 69

STATS

2015-2016 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
J. Skinner 82 28 23 -2 51
V. Rask 80 21 27 -6 48
J. Staal 82 20 28 6 48
E. Lindholm 82 11 28 -23 39
J. Faulk 64 16 21 -22 37
J. Nordstrom 71 10 14 1 24
A. Nestrasil 55 9 14 4 23
R. Nash 64 9 13 -5 22
N. Hanifin 79 4 18 -14 22
J. Slavin 63 2 18 1 20
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
C. Ward 23 17 10 .909 2.41
E. Lack 12 14 6 .901 2.81