The Chicago Blackhawks are one of two teams left without a loss in regulation. Cam Ward, surprisingly, is a big reason why.
The Chicago Blackhawks are currently 3-0-2. The only other team to do so are the New Jersey Devils. While the Devils weren’t expected, they still don’t match up to the surprise start the Chicago Blackhawks put together.
This unbeaten streak, led by a rejuvenated, irate and determined Jonathan Toews, is due largely to the offensive performance the Chicago Blackhawks top-six forwards have put together so far this year. Patrick Kane and Toews each have five goals through five games and Alex DeBrincat has tallied six..
Not too shabby.
That said, the ‘Hawks can score all the goals they want offensively, however it doesn’t make a difference if pucks are going in at will on their own end of the ice. The Chicago Blackhawks defense hasn’t done too much to prevent this through five games, but Cam Ward certainly has.
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One such example of this is the Chicago Blackhawks 4-3 overtime loss to the Minnesota Wild early this season in which Cam stopped 42 of 46 shots while posting a .913 SV%.
Without Ward in net, this game is not nearly as close and the Blackhawks certainly don’t leave Minnesota with a point. Cam repeatedly bailed out poor defensive efforts and positioning from Chicago Blackhawks defensemen and kept his team close.
While sharing the Carolina Hurricanes net last season with Scott Darling, there were eight games of the 43 started where Ward saw 34 + shots against.
On the contrary, through five games with the Hawks this year Ward has already started 3 games in which he faced 34+ shots. Furthermore, these aren’t just lazy wrist shots from bad angles, either. Take a look at a shot chart from their 4-3 win over the St. Louis Blues.
The Chicago Blackhawks outshot them in both attempts and shots on goal, however they still allowed three goals in this game which is largely due to the type of opportunities the ‘Hawks were giving up.
The only place on the Blues’ heat map that are dark blue are surrounding Ward’s crease.
These aren’t easy saves to make. For example, check out this one where Ward goes post-to-post to make a stop.
It’d be nice if these types of saves happened once every few games, not a few times every game. Or, ya know, in situations where he doesn’t need to make these saves like he did in the Ottawa Senators game where Chicago was down one and fighting to come back.
Regardless, Ward doesn’t seem to mind. The guy has battled through five straight games and has given the Chicago Blackhawks a chance to win every single time he’s been on the ice.
What more can you ask for?
The same cannot be said for the combination of J-F Berube, Anton Forsberg or Jeff Glass when they were in goal last year. Any NHL goalie stops the shots they are supposed to stop — that’s why they’re in the NHL — but the great ones do more than that. The great ones — guys like Corey Crawford — go above and beyond to make saves they have absolutely no business making.
Somehow, Ward has been able to do that to start this year. Cam has stepped up to make big saves in big moments in every single Blackhawks game this season. Most importantly, he gives them a fighting chance to win hockey games.
While the starting job will be handed back to Crawford once he proves he’s healthy and capable of holding it down, Ward has undeniably earned himself a job as the backup and a reliable starter while Crawford is eased in.
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When Ward was signed, no one guessed that he would go on to lead the Blackhawks to a second place Central Division spot by the time Crawford returns.
Yet, here we are.
The hope is that as Ward continues to fight and Crawford continues to work his way back, perhaps the defense will take strides and improve too.
A guy can dream, right?
All in all, I think all Chicago Blackhawks fans need to take a moment and give a nod of respect to our unlikely and unsung hero to start the 2018-19 season, Mr. Cam Ward.