When the Carolina Hurricanes signed Anton Khudobin in the 2013 off-season, the expectations were that the young Kazak goaltender would be the first solid backup for Cam Ward that the team had in years. There was also the opportunity to steal the starting job away from the established, though oft-injured, Carolina goaltender.
Khudobin was an interesting signing at the time. Despite being in the league since 2009, he had only 21 NHL starts in his career, 7 in Minnesota and 14 in Boston. His numbers in those starts, however, were outstanding, posting a 14-5-2 record with a .932 SV% and a 1.80 GAA. By all accounts, signing Khudobin had the very real possibility of being a steal for the Hurricanes.
Making a Good First Impression
Given the inconsistent play from Ward in years prior, and the need to see exactly what their new signing brought to the team, head coach Kirk Muller split the first six starts of the 2013-2014 season. Khudobin shined in his first two games, allowing only three goals total and earning two wins in the process. He appeared to be heading toward another solid game in his third start, but disaster struck.
Midway through his third start against the Phoenix Coyotes, Khudobin left the net to retrieve a puck that had been cleared down the ice by the Coyotes’ penalty kill. He appeared to have caught a rut in the ice, collapsing hard to the ice and landing on his leg. The next stoppage of play, Khudobin signaled to the bench and had to be helped off the ice. Little did Canes fans know at the time, but the sight of Anton hobbling down the tunnel to the dressing room would be the last they would see of him for months.
Khudobin was put on IR shortly after the game, and though the initial hope was that he would only be out for a week, the goaltender would not see the ice again until January 2nd. To his credit, he returned to play as if he never missed a step, finishing the year with a 2.30 GAA and a .926 SV%.
Reality Sets Back In
After a career year for the young goaltender, and another inconsistent effort from Cam Ward, it was expected that Khudobin would be the de-facto starter this season. In an interview with THW’s Alessandro Seren Rosso , Khudobin stated that he felt his play last year earned him that starting job. However, with new management taking over the Carolina franchise, and a new coach behind the bench, every player was given a clean slate. That included both goaltenders.
Unfortunately for the Hurricanes, it took a long time for any player to take advantage of that clean slate. The team lost every game in October, and goaltending was as much of a factor in those losses as any other aspect of the game. Khudobin went 0-3-1, with a 3.25 GAA and an .890 SV%. Ward was worse, putting up a 4.00 GAA and an .840 SV%, while also going 0-3-1.
One could get the feeling that the starting job could go to either goaltender, depending on who found their game first. Unfortunately for Khudobin, Ward put October behind him to have a stellar November performance. He started off the month with a 3-0 shutout over the Coyotes and never looked back, ending the month with a .936 SV% while also earning every win the Hurricanes have put up thus far.
This, of course, means Khudobin is still looking for his first win of the season. Some of that falls on the goaltender. His rebound control has been suspect, to put it nicely, and when one spends the first 10 minutes of the game bobbling even the easiest of shots, it doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence in the team around him.
On the other hand, defensive mistakes and the lack of offensive support are also key factors as to why Khudobin is still winless. In the eight games Khudobin has started, the team has scored only 13 goals, leaving the margin of error for the goaltender to be incredibly small. The odds for a win are decreased even more when defensive mistakes, like the ones in last night’s Washington game, happen with regularity.
A partial breakaway five minutes into the game isn’t an ideal situation, but even then, the goal could have been avoided if both defensemen didn’t converge on the shooter. With the speed of Washingtons’ forwards, Hainsey would have been better off playing the situation as a two-on-one and staying in front of the net.
The game-winning goal was very similar. A turnover in the defensive zone is often a costly mistake, but even more so when everyone is vacating the zone, defensemen included. Fehr had an easy breakaway from the blueline in, simply because there were no Carolina players around him, despite having four players in the zone.
Head coach Bill Peters said after the game that “It can’t happen at this level. We need to learn. We need to manage the puck better in certain situations and be aware of the time in the game.” Khudobin had a more difficult time explaining what went wrong Thursday night, perhaps frustrated by yet another win slipping through his fingers.
“We have to play smarter. It’s five minutes into the game and you can’t do something wrong with the puck at your own blueline. But at the same time…you know…it’s hard to say something right now.”
It seems that Khudobin, like many Canes fans, is at a loss for words to explain the play of the team on most nights.
Jonathan Gardner currently lives in Raleigh, NC and covers the Carolina Hurricanes.