Take a look around the Carolina Hurricanes dressing room this week, and you might see a wide range of emotions and behavior. Mixed with some frustration, there might be some celebrations. A few hopeful glances from veterans, huge smiles from rookies performing well, and any other range of reactions.
What you will not see is any comfortable goaltenders, as things have just become very awkward within the Hurricanes goaltending corps.
Justin Peters was never meant to be in the NHL. He’s been performing well most of his career with Carolina’s AHL affiliate, the Charlotte Checkers. Peters had filled in here and there when needed, but when both Cam Ward and Anton Khudobin went down injured, it came to Peters to step up. Keeping Ward’s spot warm, then Khudobin’s — was Peter’s charge.
Since Ward has shown his new thing is to be inconsistent and only show up when he feels like it, it’s been Peters who can be relied on. Whenever head coach Kirk Muller has rolled the dice on Ward, he’s come up snake-eyes. Peters? Like a rock.
With Saturday night’s performance against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Peters has sealed Khudobin’s fate as merely an option. Numbers became irrelevant, despite the fact that he went 47 for 50. It was the highlight reel saves, stoning the Lightning’s hot shot scorers. With a shut-down night like Peters turned in– regardless of it being an overtime loss– it changes everything.
Khudobin returning and Peters becoming trade bait seemed an inevitability until Saturday. After a statement night in Tampa Bay, Peters has painted Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford into a corner. While Rutherford’s track record on decision making has been questionable at best, it’s time for him to drop loyalties. Yes, Peters should have been traded last week. Things change just that quickly in professional hockey and it’s crunch time for Rutherford and the angel and the devil living on his shoulders.
Peters’s performance differs from Ward’s in that Ward is the ‘sometimes bad sometimes good’ kind of inconsistent — while Peters is sometimes good and sometimes great. Khudobin is still a great goaltender, which is what makes things awkward.
Who goes now?
Is Peters reliable enough to be handed the backup spot? Does Khudobin deserve a chance? Does Ward even care anymore? These are all insanely hard questions and unfortunately they have to be answered by Rutherford. However, choosing between Peters and Khudobin at this point seems like a win-win.
Charlotte is beautiful this time of year, and one of them will find that out first-hand. Except for Ward. They’re stuck with him.