Anton Khudobin Single-Handedly Salvaging Carolina Hurricanes' 2013-14 Season

Mark Jones@@CanesReportSenior Analyst IJanuary 7, 2014

Jan 4, 2014; Uniondale, NY, USA; Carolina Hurricanes goalie Anton Khudobin (31) makes a save against the New York Islanders during the second period of a game at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

According to the statistics, the Carolina Hurricanes' overall play has declined significantly over the course of the past month.

The 'Canes' success on the scoreboard, however, has trended in the opposite direction—and Anton Khudobin is largely to thank for that.

After a five-game losing streak ruined the holiday season around Raleigh in spite of Carolina's generally productive offense, a dramatic four-game winning streak has revived optimism and playoff aspirations. Khudobin is at the center of the turnaround.

UNIONDALE, NY - JANUARY 04: Anton Khudobin #31 of the Carolina Hurricanes prepares for the start of the second period during the game against the New York Islanders at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on January 4, 2014 in Uniondale, New York.  (Phot
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The 27-year-old Kazakh goaltender has made 38, 38 and 31 saves, respectively, in his first three NHL starts since returning from an injury that had sidelined him since Oct. 13.

He's a perfect 3-0-0 in the 2014 calendar year and a perfect 5-0-0 as a Carolina Hurricane, a team with which he signed last summer for less money than his previous contract with Boston. Such success has improved the former seventh-round pick's career NHL record to a splendid 19-5-1 with a 2.02 goals-against average (GAA).

Said Khudobin to reporters after Sunday's 2-1 win over Nashville according to Lauren Brownlow of Fox Sports:

I just was really, really pumped before the first game. I tried to put my emotions back in my head and I tried to focus on stopping the pucks.

Well, we know the situation that every game right now is really important for us. So we just pretty much go out there, win or die.

Khudobin's 2013-14 Starts with Carolina
DateResultSavesShotsSave Percentage
Oct. 62-1 W vs. PHI1718.944
Oct. 103-2 W vs. WSH3032.938
Oct. 13No Decision vs. PHX1820.900
Jan. 24-3 OTW vs. WSH3841.927
Jan. 43-2 W vs. NYI3840.950
Jan. 52-1 W vs. NSH3132.969

The return and immediate game-changing hot streak of No. 31 could not have come at a better time for the Hurricanes.

Despite another concerning injury to slump-ridden Cam Ward and the inevitable cooling-off stretch for career AHL player Justin Peters, Carolina has revived a campaign which, one week ago, seemed spiraling out of control.

I wrote on Dec. 26 a plan to revitalize the Hurricanes' 2013-14 season; while they certainly haven't resolved all of their problems yet, revitalization is beginning to look like a reality.

Yet the 'Canes, when evaluated by the standard advanced numbers, are not playing better at all. They accumulated more shot attempts (aka Corsi) than their opponents in four of five nights during the losing streak; since, they've finished with fewer attempts than the opposition in three consecutive contests (all Carolina victories).

Examine their shot attempt differential over the past nine games in the chart below:

Graph of the shot attempts for the 'Canes (red) and for their opponent (blue) in the past nine games.
Graph of the shot attempts for the 'Canes (red) and for their opponent (blue) in the past nine games.Based on Extra Skater data.

The unusual disparity between the declining efficiency outlined above and the box score results can be explained through Khudobin and Khudobin only.

Perhaps the most exciting aspect of No. 31's presence on the Carolina roster is not his ongoing run of invincibility, but rather his absolute lack of recorded weakness. To put it simply, Khudobin has never had a counterbalancing cold streak—in defiance of most theories of modern-day NHL stat analysis, there's no definitive proof that he'll eventually succumb to regression.

With his sparkling .940 save percentage this season only a few decimals above his .935 career average, it's possible Khudobin could remain spectacular over a period of months or years—not just a week or two.

Have the Carolina Hurricanes stumbled onto the gold mine of the NHL goaltending market? It might be a little early yet to praise the 5'11" Khudobin to that extent.

But the possibilities and confidence that No. 31 supplies to the entire lineup are exciting indeed.

Mark Jones has been a Carolina Hurricanes featured columnist for Bleacher Report since 2009. Visit his profile to read more, or follow him on Twitter.


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