Just as the Carolina Hurricanes were finally getting healthy, goaltender Cam Ward went down with a knee injury.
Ward, who helped lead the franchise to its only Stanley Cup in 2006, suffered a third-degree MCL tear over the weekend and will miss 6-8 weeks. His backup, Dan Ellis, was scratched from Tuesday’s home victory over Buffalo because of a flu-like symptoms.
Welcome back, Justin Peters.
Peters, the team’s primary backup of two seasons, was recalled from Charlotte on Monday and turned in a pretty impressive effort in a 4-3 victory.
His performance is certainly encouraging. He got plenty of help, as four different Hurricanes scored goals — Eric Staal had three assists and Alexander Semin had three points — but Peters deserves a strong pat on the back for his play. Turning back 37 shots is a pretty good night, especially for a goalie who was surprisingly recalled Monday.
“It was definitely an exciting 24 hours for myself, coming up from Charlotte and then finding out this morning I was playing,” the 26-year-old Peters said. “It feels good to be able to step in and get a win for the team.”
Carolina faces Montreal on Thursday night, and it’s uncertain whether or not Ellis will be in goal. But eventually, will Peters assume the top goaltender spot until Ward returns?
Many of the players that were out during a rough stretch (four losses in five games) have returned to the ice. Notably, the Canes got back most of their experienced defensemen, though Joni Pitkanen remains shelved despite being pulled off the injured list last weekend.
In fact, even with the suddenly tenuous situation in goal, an improving offense may help get it through some rough nights. The Canes’ top two lines are playing very well, and if the third line can get more productive, they can be quite explosive. Carolina has scored four or more goals in three of its last four contests.
Ellis has played in seven games, getting five starts. At 3-2, he has a 2.53 goals against average and a 92.3 save percentage, having stopped 158 of 182 shot attempts. Head coach Kirk Muller seems comfortable with Ellis in goal; and on two occasions, he started him when Ward was struggling.
With 172 NHL games under his belt, Ellis first saw action for the Dallas Stars in 2004 and was back in the league with Nashville four years later. He has also spent time with Tampa Bay and Anaheim. But given that Ellis is still considered a bit of a journeyman, relying on him during Ward’s absence could be tricky.
What will the team do if he struggles? Peters played well Tuesday, but it’s uncertain if the organization views him as a long-term solution. They were happy on Tuesday.
“He’s a competitor,” Muller said. “And I think if you look at his career, you take the good and bad as far you’re learning all the time. This is an opportunity that he knows is going to be more than one game.”
Muller continued, “He came in ready to go, he’s been wanting to be here. He showed he’s prepared himself, he’s matured, he was ready for a big game and took advantage of it and had a really strong effort tonight.”
Yet, it remains possible the Hurricanes will shop around looking for some net-minding help, though getting teams to pull the trigger on such a move won’t be easy.
Carolina was already likely going to enter the April 3 trade deadline market for another blue-liner, but can it makes deals for a defender that will improve what’s already on the ice and get a goaltender that will satisfy their needs?
That wouldn’t be easy, thus there’s a solid chance Peters may be in Raleigh for the entire time Ward is out.
He got off to a good start Tuesday, and with the bizarre way this season has played out so far, maybe he’ll play well enough that the team won’t use any of its resources to find a replacement, and focus on getting better on that blue line.