RALEIGH — Goaltender Anton Khudobin matched a Carolina Hurricanes franchise record with his 10 wins in the month of January, and it didn’t go unnoticed.
The NHL on Monday named Khudobin its first star for the month, marking the fifth time in franchise history one of its players received the award as player of the month.
The last to do it? Goaltender Cam Ward in March 2009.
The NHL announcement came on the day Ward returned to Canes practice after a brief conditioning stint with the Charlotte Checkers of the AHL. He played two games for the Checkers, stopping 59 of 63 shots against the Lake Erie Monsters, and said after practice Monday that he feels good.
“I’m ready to rock and roll whenever they give me that opportunity,” said Ward, who last played for the Canes on Dec. 31, missing the past 14 games with a lower-body injury.
But a healthy Ward may now have to take a backseat to Khudobin, who had a 2.19 goals-against average and .927 save percentage in 14 games in January. Canes coach Kirk Muller did not commit to a starter for Tuesday’s game against the Winnipeg Jets, but many will be surprised if it is not Khudobin.
“We’re just going game by game right now,” Muller said Monday. “The nice thing is that (Ward) is healthy now and he had a couple of good games and is ready to go, which is a great thing.”
Ward, 29, missed much of last year’s shortened NHL season with a knee injury. He was ready for the start of training camp and in top shape, only to suffer the lower-body injury Oct. 24.
Ward was out for 10 games, returning Nov. 18 against Boston. He then was in net for 11 games before again being sidelined by the injury.
“I’m not going to lie. It’s been a struggle,” Ward said.
Ward said he “rushed back” from the initial injury because Khudobin was out with an ankle injury and goalie Justin Peters was forced to play a lot of games. Ward noted he was soon “back on the shelf” again after the New Year’s Eve victory over the Montreal Canadiens.
That’s when a healthy Khudobin took over. Peters started one game in January, but Khudobin relieved him during that game and played in all 14 in the month as the Canes went 10-4 to keep pace in the tight Metropolitan Division.
Khudobin, 27, signed a one-year, $800,000 contract with the Canes in July 2013. He’s due to become an unrestricted free agent after the season.
“Khudobin is playing exceptionally well and given this team a chance to win every night,” Ward said. “I’m just going to be patient and wait for that next opportunity, and when I get it take advantage of it and try to help this team win.”
Khudobin and Ward were in the nets Monday as Peters got in his work before and after practice. Khudobin said he welcomed having Ward back.
“As I said even in training camp, we are partners,” Khudobin said.
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