The more superstitious NHL fans will generally hope and pray for the continuing health of their starting goaltender first and foremost. The loss of a hot goalie — or any solid goalie for that matter — can often devastate a team and cause disarray in all the wrong places.
While the Carolina Hurricanes have plenty of concerns in plenty of areas, the last thing they needed was an issue with goaltending. While the veteran starter Cam Ward continued his struggle to regain his mojo, backup netminder Anton Khudobin was more than willing to step in and keep things held down until Ward was, well, Ward again.
With Khudobin’s fantastic performance and the struggling Ward, head coach Kirk Muller made the wise decision to go with a “rotation” system, allowing both Ward and Khudobin to stagger their starts and share the duties. It seemed as though Khudobin was taking the helm, coming up with the team’s only wins. While Ward was keeping himself acceptable, Khudobin seemed to be challenging for the overall starting job.
Until Sunday, that is.
During an out-of-conference matchup with the Phoenix Coyotes, Khudobin came unusually far out of his crease to cut off a shorthanded rush. After going down into a somewhat awkward looking butterfly, he arose in obvious pain. Returning to his crease after the puck was cleared, he raised his catching glove, begging the Hurricanes to create a break in play.
After being helped to the bench, Ward took over in net and helped the Hurricanes find a way to lose, giving up three major goals. Information didn’t surface until Monday morning as to the condition of Khudobin when sources from both the News And Observer in Raleigh and ESPN Radio reported via Twitter that he was scheduled for an MRI later in the day.
Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford broke the team’s silence at midday, saying Khudobin’s injury was, in fact, lower body but was a “best case scenario” and the goalie would remain on injured reserve, but listed as day-to-day. It was promising news, if somewhat nebulous.
A team able to survive on only one goaltender does not exist, and the Hurricanes immediately called up Justin Peters from the team’s AHL affiliate, the Charlotte Checkers. Peters had a brief stint with the Hurricanes last season, filling in during Ward’s prolonged injury. While a fan favorite and having recorded an unlikely shutout, his numbers were less than consistent and it was clear he needed more time in the AHL to develop.
After Khudobin’s results were made public, later reports had Ward being given a rest day by Muller as the team continued to focus on the struggling passing game and power play. Giving Ward a rest and with Peters still in transit from Charlotte, it’s safe to say Ward will get the nod on Tuesday against the Chicago Blackhawks in the final game prior to the traditional October road trip. While the numbers give Carolina a sporting chance to pull off an upset, it’s unclear what this recent wrinkle in the goaltending will do in this game or those in the immediate future.
A defense with well documented issues and two questionable goaltenders does not paint a promising picture for the rest of October. With Muller’s tendency to play it safe with injuries—as evidenced by the extended leave of Tuomo Ruutu— it’s hard to make a concrete estimate as to Khudobin’s return.
The sooner the Hurricanes have Khudobin back, the better. Peters may or may not be NHL material, and with a crucial chance to turn things around on the road, Carolina can ill-afford to throw dice on any aspect of their game. They would do well to remain conservative, focusing on fundamental defensive-minded hockey.