I do not follow the Carolina Hurricanes on a regular basis, but I have caught them a few times during their epic 14-game losing streak (which was finally snapped today against Minnesota), and based upon what I've seen, there's a goaltending change necessary in "'Cane Country."
Now, I'm sure that goaltending is not the only issue in Carolina, but it's a big one, especially now that Cam Ward is out indefinitely with a lacerated leg. Not that Ward was very good when he was the starter, and he certainly was a part of the first half of their horrible string of losses, but the problem is that as bad as Cam Ward has been, Michael Leighton is even worse.
I don't know if it's just for this season, as he appeared to be pretty solid in net the only time I saw him last year, as a member of the Chicago Blackhawks in a game against Detroit, but Leighton has looked absolutely terrible with Carolina. Maybe the losing streak is a big part of it—it's certainly hard to gain confidence in yourself, and your team, when you can't win hockey games.
But just watching him against the Wild, I really noticed just how shaky he was; more than a couple times he got down in the butterfly way too early, and seemed to get up much too late.
A perfect example of this is on the third goal for Minnesota: Leighton gets down early to make a save, the shooter sidesteps around him. Leighton falls down and sticks out his glove in a futile attempt to stop it, puck caroms in the slot to a wide open John Scott, who pops it in the net.
By staying up a couple seconds later, Leighton has the save, and the game is still 4-2. Instead, it was the second goal for the Wild in 20 seconds, cutting the deficit from 4-1 to 4-3, and putting Minnesota back in the game.
In all three of his starts with the 'Canes this season, Michael Leighton has let in at least three goals per game, equaling out to a rather pedestrian 4.68 GAA and a non NHL-worthy .833 save percentage. You simply are not going to consistently win games with a goaltender that is only stopping 83.3 percent of the shots he is facing.
One may think that the Hurricanes have answered this problem already, signing veteran goaltender Manny Legace from the AHL's Chicago Wolves, but they're really only compacting it. Inconsistent play in seasons past is the reason that Legace has already failed to crack an NHL roster, getting cut from the Atlanta Thrashers on Sept. 28 after accepting an invitation to their training camp.
In his only two appearances thus far of the season, in back-to-back games in November, he let in four goals in each of the games, going 0-1-1 during that stretch. Sad to say for Carolina fans, but it does not appear he will be reverting back to his All-Star form from 2008.
Carolina's defense, perhaps surprisingly, is allowing an average of only 29.6 shots per game, good for 14th lowest in the league. This is even fewer shots per game than the league-leading San Jose Sharks are giving up.
But the difference all comes down to goaltending. Leighton and Legace simply aren't stopping shots with any kind of regularity. And until they do, expect the Hurricanes to permanently dwell at the bottom of the league standings.