Canes' substitute goalies did not expect to be in the spotlight

calexander@newsobserver.comMarch 12, 2013 

— The NHL lockout had begun and goaltender Justin Peters was packing up his truck in late September for the drive to Charlotte, ready to begin training camp with the Checkers of the American Hockey League.

Just before pulling out of the Raleigh Center Ice lot, Peters was told the Checkers had announced veteran goalie Dan Ellis would be getting a professional tryout in camp.

“Oh, OK, good deal,” he said, completely unfazed by the situation.

Neither Peters nor Ellis knew how things would unfold. Neither could have predicted that in March they’d be sitting opposite each other in the Carolina Hurricanes locker room at PNC Arena, that the Canes’ Stanley Cup playoff hopes this season might squarely rest on their shoulders.

“So much has happened since that day,” Peters said Sunday. “It seems like a long time ago and it was only September. A lot has happened with the lockout and quick training camp, all the other.”

Primarily, Cam Ward’s knee injury. That came March 3 against the Florida Panthers and changed everything.

When the NHL lockout ended in January and NHL teams scrambled to put rosters together, the Canes had a choice to make: either Ellis or Peters as Ward’s backup. Both had played well for the Checkers, but the Canes decided to go with Ellis, who had 165 games of NHL experience and had 72 victories, with 12 shutouts.

But with Ward lost for six to eight weeks with a third-degree knee sprain, now it’s Ellis and Peters. And, for now, coach Kirk Muller says there is no clear No. 1.

While Ellis was the starter and winner Saturday against the New Jersey Devils in a 6-3 victory, Muller did not quickly commit to Ellis starting again Tuesday against the Washington Capitals at the Verizon Center. It could be Peters, he said.

“I think you’re going to see more of a back and forth,” Muller said of a goalie rotation. “It worked for them in Charlotte. If we can get the quality minutes out of both of them, I don’t think that one deserves to play (more) than the other. They’ll play off of each other.

“The thing is they don’t have to be the star of the game. They just have to give us a chance to win and I think they have.”

Ellis, 32, was signed to a one-year NHL contract after the lockout and is 4-2-0 in eight appearances with the Canes, with a 2.60 goals-against average and .921 save percentage. Peters, 26, has started twice since his recall from Charlotte after Ward’s injury and is 1-1 with a 4-3 win against Buffalo and 4-2 loss to the Montreal Canadiens.

Such a situation could have been contentious, in Charlotte and now with the Canes. Peters, for example, expected to be Ward’s backup this season after Brian Boucher, the Canes’ backup last season, suffered an offseason shoulder injury.

“But you never want any tension,” Peters said.

There is none. Ellis and Peters are friends. Both are personable types, good in the room and popular with their teammates. Both battle in net.

“We know each other and we’re comfortable playing together as a tandem,” Ellis said. “I think that’s a huge bonus. A lot of times you bring in another guy you don’t know very well and there’s that whole new read process. But I think we work well together in Charlotte and think we helped the team with consistent goaltending, and that’s what we’re looking to do here, too.”

In talking about Peters’ goaltending style, Ellis said, “He makes himself really big in the net. He’s big, he’s patient. He plays a little deeper but it gives him the opportunity to get to those backdoor shots.”

As for Ellis, Peters called him “a really good positional goalie blessed with the athletic ability to go with it. He’s calm in there, just like” Ward.

Ward could return for the playoffs, but the Canes (14-9-1), who lead the Southeast Division, have to get the job done without him and do it with Ellis and Peters.

“We’re just taking it day by day,” Peters said. “Both ‘Elly’ and I have a lot of confidence in ourselves and the team has confidence in us. But we’re definitely not going to get ahead of ourselves.”

Alexander: 919-829-8945

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service