TAMPA -- Cam Ward or Anton Khudobin?
Coming out of the Christmas break, Canes coach Bill Peters had a decision to make as the Canes face the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday.
"It's a good problem to have," Peters said, smiling. "I love internal competition."
Peters will go with Ward, who was the hard-luck loser in the 2-1 defeat at Tampa Bay on Dec. 11. The first Lightning goal came when the puck hit a stanchion and bounded back in front of the crease as Ward left the net to play it. The winning goal was scored when a puck glanced off the skate of defenseman Ron Hainsey.
Khudobin started the last two games, stopping 48 of 50 shots in a 1-0 loss to the New York Rangers and then the 2-1 shootout victory over the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday in the Canes' final game before the Christmas break.
"He's played real well but we don't want to leave 'Wardo' out too long," Peters said. "You don't want to leave Anton out too long moving forward from today."
After a six-game losing streak, the Canes have gone 2-1-1 in the last four, beating the Toronto Maple Leafs and then the Devils. That proved to be the last game for Peter DeBoer, who was fired Friday as Devils coach.
Beating the Devils in the final pre-Christmas game was a pick-me-up for the Canes, Peters said.
"It makes the flight home from Jersey better, makes the three days off better, too," he said. "You don't have to sit there and stew on a negative result."
The Lighting are stewing a bit. Tampa Bay topped Pittsburgh 4-3 in its final game before the break but is 3-5-1 in its last nine.
"I'm excited to get it going," said Lightning goalie Ben Bishop, who noted he had been fighting a cold but was good to go Saturday.
The Canes flew into Tampa early Saturday morning -- a different routine but one mandated by the new CBA -- and went through the morning skate at Amalie Arena.
"I was pleasantly surprised this morning," Peters said. "I thought pucks would be flying all over the place. Guys executed well, had lots of jump and enthusiasm."
Defenseman Justin Faulk did fly to Tampa a day early to spend time with forward J.T. Brown of the Lightning, a former teammate at Minnesota-Duluth and a close friend. Faulk and Brown attended the Orlando Magic game against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday.
"No one minds giving the body a chance to recover a little more," Faulk said of the break. "It was good to spend time with friends and family over the break and relax a bit."
Eric Staal will start on the wing wit Nathan Gerbe on a line centered by Riley Nash. Staal still is feeling the effects of a shot off the right foot, but Peters said he liked the way Staal was skating Saturday and could move him back to center during the game.
Victor Rask will center Jeff Skinner and Elias Lindholm, Jay McClement will center Chris Terry and Pat Dwyer, and Brad Malone was at center with Zach Boychuk and Brendan Woods.
Jiri Tlusty, out the last six games with an upper-body injury, did dress for the skate but will not play. Andrej Nestrasil (upper-body) did some individual skating after the morning skate.
Jordan Staal continues to skate with the team and should be set for a return Monday against the Montreal Canadiens in PNC Arena.