Kevin Kraczkowski (Matchsticks & Gasoline): Cam Ward usually ranks amongst the NHL's leaders in games played, and puts up better than average numbers while doing so. He's already missed a substantial portion of the season, and has put up less than stellar numbers while he's in, posting a 3.15 GAA and an .895 save percentage. Is he already trending downward?
Bob Wage (Canes Country): Cam Ward doesn’t fit in a system that’s reliant on a goalie clearing his own rebounds. Ward tends to kick to the slot rather than the corners and the defense has troubling clearing the zone and avoiding that quality second and third chance. The guy just wasn’t built to face a ton of rubber and do it on his own. That being said, is he trending downward? No, he’s just in the wrong system. He’s a fantastic second save goalie, being that he has amazing reflexes and quick recovery in most situations, but he relies on his defense to bail him out when he needs it and he isn’t going to get that support from an offense first team.
M&G: So, Kevin Westgarth. I feel like I should thank you, or something.....
CC: Westgarth is a heart and soul type of guy, great leader, great physicality, great on ice work ethic, should be a fantastic fit on a Calgary team with a ton of young talent that could use some focus. Change of scenery and all that.You are welcome.
M&G: It's hard to believe that Jeff Skinner is just 21 years old. Is he proving to be worth the money?
CC: Oh he’s always been worth the money. Skinner is an exciting player to watch, he’s fast, elusive, and has the ability to break open a game. With concussions being such a prominent part of his early career, he really lost some of that board work he was good at and he seemed to have lost a step coming up ice on the rush but watching him, you would see these glimpses of brilliance, reminiscent of Patrick Kane and then he would almost seem nervous with the puck on the next shift. He’s really come into his own and grown as a young man, the work ethic is there and barring good health, we should get to see him put the puck in the net a lot in the coming years.
M&G: Carolina’s power play is not exactly the best. What role has special teams played in the Hurricanes’ success this year?
CC: When it’s clicking, it’s clicking. It’s so important to score on those man advantages and there hasn’t really been someone that could step up and make that happen. The addition of Liles will obviously help and with Skinner on fire and Staal returning very shortly that will give the Canes an opportunity to spread the power play a little more evenly. It should also open up some opportunities for some of the younger underutilized forwards. There is one really great power play unit and one average unit, the scoring needs to be spread more consistently. When everyone is healthy this team is an offensive force and the power play can be very intimidating but unbalanced. It’s those opportunities given up when being too aggressive that have killed the momentum for the Canes and not being able to get back fast enough defensively or take the body to avoid those broken plays. The lack of power play has played a huge role for the Hurricanes, just not in a positive way, but over the last five or so games, there has been improvement and the Liles addition has opened up more options not only for Sekera, but for that second power play unit.
M&G: Hypothetical question: Calgary defeats the Canes. How did they pull it out?
CC: Empty net for sixty minutes. All kidding aside, the key would be to fire a ton of rubber at the leg pads, getting to the slot and creating traffic in front of the net, send everyone down low and whack at the loose pucks in the slot, take advantage of the pucks that aren’t cleared cleanly out of the zone. Second opportunities will come, they won’t be pretty, but you have to bury them. Goal tending will be a big factor in a game like this, it should be a wide open game and the goalies will have to be on their toes.