Luke DeCock

October 31, 2013

DeCock: Another bizarre goaltending twist for Carolina Hurricanes

With both Cam Ward and Anton Khudobin out injured, the Hurricanes are scrambling in net with all kinds of implications, including the decision of a seventh-round draft pick and Rick DiPietro's potential comeback.

In one of those strange twists of goaltending fate that so often seem to plague the Carolina Hurricanes, their season may be heading the wrong direction because of a seventh-round draft pick.

Long before they lost both Cam Ward and Anton Khudobin to injuries in the space of 10 days, the Hurricanes lost Frederik Andersen to a contract squabble. They had taken the Dane with the 187th pick of the 2010 draft, and he looked like one of those rare late-round picks who might actually pan out.

But Andersen refused to sign, telling the Hurricanes they had too much goaltending depth with Ward and Brian Boucher, and went back into the 2012 draft, where he was taken by the Anaheim Ducks, an organization with more goaltending depth than the Hurricanes. Carolina general manager Jim Rutherford took the rare step of issuing a press release criticizing both the player and his new agent, Ritch Winter.

“We tried to sign Frederik to a contract, and made him aware that we felt there was an opportunity here for him to earn one of our two NHL spots during training camp,” Rutherford’s statement read. “We are very disappointed that he chose not to join our organization. Prior to him changing his agent, we had every indication that he was very interested in being a part of the Carolina Hurricanes.”

By now, given Boucher’s sudden departure and Ward’s frequent injuries, Andersen probably would have played in as many as 40 NHL games for the Hurricanes during the past two seasons. Instead, he has played three games for the Ducks this season – with top American prospect John Gibson still ahead of him on the long-term depth chart – while the Hurricanes are forced once again to rely on Justin Peters, who despite his NHL contract is not at this point an NHL goalie. At 27, the window for him to become one continues to grow smaller, although he’ll never have a better chance than this.

In desperation, the Hurricanes offered Rick DiPietro an AHL tryout, and goalie coach Greg Stefan was in Grand Rapids, Mich., to watch his debut Wednesday. One word could suffice for Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller’s summary of Stefan’s appraisal: Rusty. If DiPietro can help, it won’t be soon.

There are precious few teams that could survive losing both their No. 1 and No. 2 goaltenders, and the Hurricanes aren’t one of them. The shame of it is they were playing quite well before first Khudobin and then Ward went down, their 4-2-3 start becoming a three-game losing streak going into Friday’s game against the Tampa Bay Lightning to open a stretch of six of seven at PNC Arena.

They continue to fall behind early, as they did before Ward was injured, but they have lost the confidence in their goaltending that allowed them to recover in those games. Instead of sticking with the game plan, they have panicked. And then lost. At one point in Thursday’s practice, Muller interrupted a drill to snap at the team. “We just went over this!” he exclaimed.

“We have to be careful because we were playing really good hockey, and I think the message the last couple days has been we have to keep that foundation in our game,” Muller said. “Yes, there are some areas in our game we have to address, but we still have to be a confident team and be aggressive at the right times and have confidence that we can still win a tight game.”

It’s a long season, and if the Hurricanes can stop the bleeding now, if Peters can answer the challenge or DiPietro can contribute, it’ll go a long way toward the eventual success of their season. If not, this goaltending crisis has the potential to sink it entirely.

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