When Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller was reflecting on the his team’s “Jekyll and Hyde” 2013 campaign, it wasn’t hard for him to determine the turning point.
“A lot of it had to do around the time [goaltender] Cam [Ward] got injured,” Muller told the NHL.com. “Up until then, we were leading our division.”
Of course, Ward wasn’t the only noteworthy Hurricanes player that suffered a significant injury last season, but shortly after he went down, Carolina went on a stretch where it won just two of 17 games.
Carolina has made a habit of leaning heavily on Ward, with him appearing in at least 68 games in four of the last five seasons going into the shortened 2013 campaign. The only exception was in 2009-10 and as you might have guessed, that was also due to significant injuries.
For better and worse, the Hurricanes’ fate has been tied to Ward since he led them to their first and only Stanley Cup championship as a rookie. There’s no question that Ward is still an important piece of the puzzle going into 2013-14, but the Hurricanes hope to have found a solid alternative in Anton Khudobin.
Khudobin has enjoyed years of success at the AHL level and he finally got his big break last season with the Boston Bruins. He took advantage of it, posting a 2.32 GAA and .920 save percentage in 14 games as Tuukka Rask’s understudy.
Of course, Khudobin still is thin on NHL experience, so Ward is still their safest bet. That’s especially true given that Ward should be healthy going into the season and highly motivated after being snubbed from Team Canada’s orientation camp.
Still, if they had Khudobin last season instead of Dan Ellis and Justin Peters, perhaps things would have turned out differently. Perhaps history won’t repeat itself if Ward goes down again.