The momentum of the Carolina Hurricanes' 2013-14 campaign has swung wildly with each passing week this autumn.
Goaltending has, without a doubt, proved to be the leading factor behind each positive or negative swing.
The NHL's lone team with three goaltenders boasting two or more wins to date, Carolina's netminding situation is certainly one of the most unpredictable in recent history.
Franchise cornerstone and former Conn Smythe Trophy winner Cam Ward suffered a moderate onslaught of criticism with his 2-2-3 start. Meanwhile, summer free-agent signing Anton Khudobin offered hope of better times to come, posting a .929 save percentage and 2-0 record in his first three starts in Raleigh.
Then, in the span of 11 days, both went down with lower-body injuries. Not only did the 'Canes immediate outlook rest solely in Justin Peters—the very disaster of a project that Khudobin was signed to finally eradicate—but they also had to go about it without the bedrock of their confidence.
For a while, everything went just as expected: terribly. Peters allowed goals on his first two shots against, the 'Canes stumbled through a difficult section of the schedule and the team entered a crucial November homestand with five consecutive losses.
An embarrassingly ugly win over a pathetic Philadelphia Flyers club on national television suddenly turned it all around.
Eight days after that miraculous overtime win, the Hurricanes now move forward riding a four-game point streak and the direct momentum of a victory over the league-leading Colorado Avalanche. Peters has spearheaded the hot streak with a stunning .965 save percentage (110 saves on 114 shots).
For the 27-year-old goalie—who had won just two of his last 22 appearances as of last Monday—it's a long-awaited, much-deserved and potentially career-reviving turnaround.
How would you grade Peters' play so far this season?
For the Carolina Hurricanes, it's a fantastic and glorious return to contention that couldn't have come at a better time.
Friday, the 'Canes enter a brutal nine-day stretch that will match their willpower against some of the league's best. They'll face the Boston Bruins twice and the Anaheim Ducks, St. Louis Blues and Detroit Red Wings once—a quartet of elites with a combined record of 46-16-10 this fall.
Fortunately, the 'Canes will also enter the nine-day stretch with a plethora of impact players ready to return to the lineup. Per team reporter Michael Smith via Twitter:
As expected, Gleason will be held out tonight. May be ready by this weekend.— Michael Smith (@MSmithCanes) November 12, 2013
Jeff Skinner could return to #Canes practice as early as Friday, Muller said.— Michael Smith (@MSmithCanes) November 12, 2013
Tuesday not really an option yet for Ward, but Friday/Saturday could be something to watch after he gets in a few practices.— Michael Smith (@MSmithCanes) November 10, 2013
Look back on the first 18 games of Carolina's 2013-14 season, and three obvious trends emerge with clarity. All three have been underlined and perhaps determined by the team's goaltending play:
|Dates||Team Record||Save Percentage|
|Oct. 4 to Oct. 19||4-2-3||.911|
|Oct. 23 to Nov. 2||0-5-0||.893|
|Nov. 5 to Today||3-0-1||.965|
The 'Canes offense has remained mostly steady (albeit at a fairly low pace). The 'Canes defense has also fluctuated only slightly, in terms of shot attempts differential (Corsi number). However, the 'Canes goaltending has consistently made the difference between wins and losses and often streaks of such results.
With Ward and Khudobin steadily progressing back to game readiness and Peters trying to hold down the fort until then, the Hurricanes' goaltending-defined season appears to be approaching another important moment.