Before last night, it had been awhile – nearly 300 days to be exact – since Justin Peters
started in a National Hockey League game. Yet last night’s performance made it look like he hadn't missed a beat.
|Michael Smith |
Though he gave up four goals and was credited with the loss, Peters made 48 saves, good for a .928 save percentage, in his first game back with the Hurricanes against a Pittsburgh Penguins team that averages the second-most shots per game in the league (34.1). Peters made 36 saves through two periods, keeping the score 1-1 heading into the final 20 minutes. A few quick goals from Pittsburgh early in the third period buried the Canes in what became a 4-2 loss.
“Some nights you face a lot of shots, and some nights you don’t. It’s funny how the game works,” Peters said. “It’s just the way that Pittsburgh plays. They shoot a lot of pucks. They stayed persistent and were able to get a couple.”
Coming into this season, it looked unlikely that Peters would see a start with the Hurricanes. With Brian Boucher
serving as Cam Ward
’s back-up, Peters has been working in tandem with Mike Murphy
in Charlotte, comprising one of the best goaltending duos in the American Hockey League.
But now with Boucher out long-term with a lower-body injury, Peters has an opportunity to make another impression with the front office and a clean slate with the new coaches who haven’t seen him before now.
Despite the loss last night, head coach Kirk Muller was impressed.
“He walked into a tough situation,” Muller said. “He walked into a team that crashes the net hard and throws everything at the net against anybody.
“He’s a big body. I thought he did a good job of fighting off the traffic. He looked confident, and I thought he had a really good game for us.”
With another back-to-back set coming up just over a week from now in early January, Peters could see another start within the next four or five games.
“[Muller] told me that he has confidence to put me back in there at some point,” Peters said.
For a back-up goaltender who doesn’t see action between the pipes every night, staying in the right mindset and remaining confident is of utmost importance. Last night, Peters found his confidence early.
“I was real excited about the opportunity to get in there,” he said. “A couple of early shots helped me settle in, and I felt comfortable.
“You can’t get caught up in thinking about what the outcome is going to be. I have a lot of belief in myself, so I just try to focus on the process of the game.”
So how does he string that confidence from last night to his next start, whenever that may be? It’s something that Peters has had to adjust to, especially coming up from Charlotte where he played often. It’s also something Peters had to struggle with last season, when as much as a month would go by between starts.
“I’ve worked with Tommy [Barrasso] to try to not overdo it in practice and stay in the right mind frame,” he said. “I’m trying to learn from last year’s experience with not playing a lot so that I am ready when I’m called upon.”
Peters has also taken pointers from Ward and Boucher, who has been seen around the locker room a few times since his injury. With this support group surrounding him, Peters’ development is in good hands.
“I had a little chat with him this morning,” Peters said of Boucher. “He’s a veteran guy, and he’s been through all different scenarios in his time, so he’s definitely a guy you can chat with.”
“Cam’s composure is second to none. The way he’s able compose himself during the game and his body language – the team has so much confidecnce in him,” he said. “It’s definitely something I try to work on from watching him, the way he’s able to remain calm no matter what’s going on in front of him. He seems to be the backbone.”
Even though last night’s outcome didn’t turn out the way Peters or the Hurricanes would have liked, Peters went back to work today in preparation for what’s ahead. Last night was a good building block, and now he’ll look to carry that momentum into his next start, even if he doesn’t know when that will be.
If his focus this morning was any indication, he’s doing just that.
“I’m just taking the positives away from [last night]. It was definitely fun to get back in the net and play in the NHL again. I’m just going to continue to work hard and stay ready for my next opportunity.”