The Carolina Hurricanes have a beast on their hands in Anton Khudobin.
In a season that seems to be punctuated by “where did this guy come from” types of surprise performances, Khudobin has established himself as a bona fide sensation. This is great since not long ago Carolina’s goaltending was in a state of severe flux. While Cam Ward‘s status remains ever-questionable, Khudobin has taken over.
Since he was recently named the NHL‘s first star for January, it’s a good bet Khudobin isn’t going anywhere soon. No matter how awkward that makes things for Ward, this is fact. He is no longer the back-up the team brought him in to be. He’s come out and stated, proven, and won his case for the starting job. Nobody can deny that, and if someone tried they’d be spectacularly wrong.
The great thing about Khudobin is his situational awareness. Not only does he know where the play is, where it’s going and how to react, he can adjust for the game situation perfectly. Coming up huge with a clutch save, denying a big-gun scorer or just going acrobatic, Khudobin isn’t only great — he’s intimidating.
When the Hurricanes have had a slow start and have had issues making a reputation for themselves, Khudobin is amplifying that cause exponentially. It’s great to have big-time skaters like Jeff Skinner, Andrej Sekera and Alexander Semin. Or to have a marquee sensation like Eric and Jordan Staal. All of those pale in comparison to having a hot goalie. Scorers are great, but one goalie can shut down an entire team.
This shutdown is needed as the Winnipeg Jets, Florida Panthers and Montreal Canadiens come to Raleigh to close out the first half of the season. Winning is not the thing to do. Winning big is where the focus should be. This is the time for Carolina to close things out huge and cruise into the 2014 Winter Olympic break with a ton of momentum on their hands. Khudobin is the key to this.
Ward is a non-entity at this point. Whatever happens with him can be decided after Sochi. This is Khudobin’s time to lead, and he is where the team should lean.