During Cam Ward
’s first extended spell on the sidelines, the Hurricanes couldn’t get their franchise goaltender healthy fast enough. This time, there’s far less of a rush.
With Ward nursing a nasty leg laceration picked up in Columbus on Nov. 7, the Hurricanes posted a 3.49 goals-against average and .891 save percentage as a team over 13 games. In the most recent nine-game run without Ward, this time due to a back injury, goaltenders Manny Legace and Justin Peters have combined for a 1.66 goals-against average and a .942 save percentage – a significant improvement to say the least.
None of this is to suggest that the Hurricanes are better off without Ward, who is expected to resume skating this Thursday and eventually play again this season, but others have done a more than adequate job replacing him.
“Both of them have played very well,” said coach Paul Maurice of Legace and Peters, who have split the workload relatively evenly. “I think they’ve kind of accepted each other in the roles that they’re playing and are pulling for each other, and that’s important for the locker room.”
The numbers posted by the two goalies are equally impressive. Legace is a perfect 5-0-0 since Ward’s most recent injury with a 1.59 goals-against average, .941 save percentage and the team’s only shutout of the season. Meanwhile, Peters’ career stats (1.76 goals-against average, .943 save percentage) would have him in the Hall of Fame if he had played slightly more than four games.
As good as those two have been, there’s no denying that they benefit from a team that has been firing on all cylinders for some time now.
”The guys are playing way better in front of me,” said Legace, when asked to compare this stretch without Ward to the one earlier in the season. “At the beginning of the year there were a lot of new faces and it took a while to gel.”
That’s also somewhat true now, as Brian Pothier and Alex Picard have only played a few games in Hurricanes sweaters, while Jay Harrison has spent the bulk of the season in the American Hockey League. However, that hasn’t mattered quite as much as one might have predicted.
“You expect a little grace period and I didn’t expect it [to come together] that quick, but that just shows the professionalism of those guys,” said Legace.
“We’re still getting to know each other, and I’m just trying to communicate as much as I can,” said Peters. “They’ve done a really good job of communicating back to me so that we’re on the same page throughout the game.”
Despite their similar statistics, Legace and Peters are actually about as different as two people who play the same position can be. Legace is 37, is in his 11th NHL season, is small in stature and seems to define the term “wily veteran.” Peters is 23, is getting his first taste of the major leagues, has good size for a goaltender and is a much quieter presence, even if that just comes with the territory of being a rookie.
Take their typical demeanors at practice, where Legace has become known for being extremely vocal with shooters. Whether they pick a corner or are thwarted by a well-timed flash of the glove, they’ll probably end up hearing something.
“Even the first three or four shots he’s hooting on guys, and they like that,” said Maurice.
Peters is much quieter, which is probably a good thing for this particular moment in his career, but that doesn’t mean he’s having any less fun.
“I’m just real excited about this opportunity and I’m just taking it one day at a time, because that’s the mentality you have to have with all the uncertainty,” he said.
Although Peters was referring to the uncertainty about this season and Ward’s eventual return, it’s fair to say that it extends beyond the end of this season for both goaltenders, whenever that may be. Legace, whose contract is up at the end of this season, is out to prove he can still be effective at the NHL level, which he has likely done after having to start this season in the AHL. With two full years in the minors and an appearance in this season’s AHL All-Star Game under his belt, Peters is trying to demonstrate that he’s ready to make the next step as Ward’s full-time understudy.
As has been the case for players like Brandon Sutter and Brett Carson that have seized similar opportunities, Legace and Peters are out to make the most of theirs. How they finish this season will go a long way towards determining how they start the next.
Notes: Maurice has named Legace as his starter for Wednesday's game in Washington, while Peters starts Thursday's home game against Pittsburgh. There were a few slight changes to lines at Tuesday's practice, with Zach Boychuk and Sergei Samsonov switching lines and Carson moving up to play with Joni Pitkanen. Full lines can be found here.