The Carolina Hurricanes have scored a grand total of two goals in three straight losses, none Sunday. It’s an offensive drought that, while not entirely unexpected, obscures what’s probably a better long-term trend for the Hurricanes.
They’re getting good goaltending night in, night out, from two different guys. When’s the last time the Hurricanes could say that? Whether because of injury or inconsistency, it has been years, and that’s no exaggeration.
Since the calendar turned from October to November, Cam Ward has been outstanding. And now Anton Khudobin, given a chance in the second half of a back-to-back Sunday, demonstrated he’s prepared to push the issue.
Khudobin didn’t get the win because the Hurricanes ran into an even hotter goalie, the San Jose Sharks’ Troy Grosenick committing grand larceny by stopping all 45 shots he faced in his NHL debut for a smash-and-grab 2-0 win, but Khudobin stopped 17 of the 18 shots he faced. That’ll work.
Khudobin second-guessed himself on the goal he allowed, getting caught too deep in his crease when Andrej Sekera went down to break up Tomas Hertl’s cross-crease pass on a two-on-one, only for the puck to get caught in Sekera’s skates for Hertl to poke past Khudobin. The trouble really started long before, when Ron Hainsey overpursued the puck in the offensive zone to allow the odd-man rush.
With the thin margin for error created by the Hurricanes’ offensive woes, that was all it took.
“We’re not going to outscore our mistakes, either, are we, by the looks of it? Right?” Hurricanes coach Bill Peters said. “So we better tighten up and not allow freebies. I thought tonight’s game-winner was a little bit of a freebie on a two-on-one. What led to the two-on-one, probably a decision made by us, then they score and it ends up being the game-winning goal. Got to figure out a way.”
Toss in an empty-netter and you’re left with a three-game losing streak, but for a change, goaltending isn’t to blame. In seven of the past nine games, the Hurricanes have allowed two or fewer goals and Ward and Khudobin have combined for a .932 save percentage. That’ll win a game or two in the NHL, although the Hurricanes are 5-3-1 over that stretch thanks to their inability to score.
“I don’t think we’ve wasted goaltending performances,” Hurricanes captain Eric Staal said. “I think they’re doing what they’re supposed to do. They’ve been there to make the saves they need to, and we’ve been playing hard. We just need to obviously contribute with some offense. Tonight felt like it was everything but the goals. That can be frustrating.”
That’s presumably easier to fix than the other end of the ice, or at least it has been for the Hurricanes in recent memory. Last season, the goaltending situation deteriorated to the point where the Hurricanes listened expectantly for any offers for Ward over the summer. None worth considering were forthcoming.
For a while, it didn’t look like any improvement was forthcoming this season. It’s no coincidence the Hurricanes’ season started to turn at the same time Ward started rounding into form, and they’ll need him to keep going post-to-post as they go coast-to-coast on a five-game, 10-day road trip. With no back-to-backs until after Thanksgiving, he’s likely to get plenty of work.
The Hurricanes still have too many shortcomings to go into every game expecting a win, too many passengers who have scored too few goals, but they’re getting the goaltending they need to go into every game believing they have a chance, and given this team’s tortuous history in that department, that’s a foundation upon which everything else can be built.