Do the Hurricanes play better in front of Justin Peters?

Something that I have learned from years of watching hockey and doing statistical analysis is that tryign to predict goaltending is losing a battle. Their performance is such so random on a year-to-year basis and every single one of them is prone to ups-and-down. Some are more extreme than others, but the model remains true for just about every goaltender in the league. A fine example of this is the recent performance of Carolina Hurricanes goalie Justin Peters.

Many considered Peters a "failed prospect," as the 2nd round pick from 2006 was given a number of chances to land a back-up job with the Hurricanes and he could never hold onto it. His biggest chance coming last season after starter Cam Ward missed all of March & April with a knee injury and posted a save percentage of .891 over 19 games. This forced the Hurricanes to look for a new back-up last summer and they found one in Anton Khudobin, who unfortunately got injured after playing in only three games.

Couple that with an injury to Ward and Peters found himself back in the NHL and he has performed better than anyone could have expected. His .929 save percentage is comparable with the likes of Robin Lehner and James Reimer, which is not bad company to be in at all, and his solid play really helped the Hurricanes stay relatively in contention throughout the month of November. The fact that this is coming from a goalie who posted a save percentage of .896 over 44 games and looked done as an NHL-er makes it even more surprising.

As nice as it is to see Peters playing well, the Canes have a problem on their hands as Anton Khudobin slowly returns to the lineup. They now have three goalies under contract and it seems pointless to hold onto all three of them unless they are really concerned about one getting injured (again). Right now, Peters' names has been mentioned the most on the trade block and fans seem to be a little divided on what the Canes should do with him. 

Prior to the last 17 games or so, Peters never looked comfortable as an NHL goaltender and his value might be higher now than it ever will be. I wouldn't expect a grand return, but the Canes might be able to get a nice package for Peters if they choose to sell high. On the other hand, some are calling for Peters to get more starts and for the Canes to roll with him and one of Ward/Khudobin as their tandem. Sports have always been a "what have you done for me lately" business, so I understand why fans want to see more of Peters and hang onto him.

The problem is that what we're seeing from Peters now might just be an aberration relative to his entire career. As I said earlier, Peters never looked like he was a capable NHL goaltender until this year and 17 games is a small enough sample size for some strange things to happen, like a career AHL goaltender posting a .920 save percentage or better.

By now, most of you should be familiar with the graph showing Peters' career numbers and it really makes you wonder if what we've seen from him this year is just fairy dust and nothing more. If so, then it makes sense for the Hurricanes to trade him while his value is high.

That said, there have been some goalies who took awhile to figure it out before breaking into the NHL. Viktor Fasth in Anaheim and Minnesota's Niklas Backstrom being good examples of this. Granted, both of those goaltenders spent years playing in Europe before going to the NHL, but they didn't make their debuts until they were in their late 20's or early 30's. Is it possible that Peters falls into that grouping. However, one argument commonly used against this is that the Hurricanes play better defense in front of Peters than do Ward or Khudobin.

Going by the eye-test, I tend to agree with this. After Ward's injury, the Canes started collapsing around their goaltender more and made sure to clear any rebounds that Peters gave up. Kind of like this. Do the facts match up with the eyes, though? We can find this out by looking at how many shots and chances the Hurricanes surrender when each goalie is in net.

Goalie 5v5 Shots For/20 5v5 Shots Against/20 Diff/20 ChancesF/60 ChancesA/60 Diff/60
Ward 9.28 10.11 -0.83 11.91 13.08 -1.17
Peters 9.37 10.15 -0.77 15.76 18.40 -2.64
Khudobin 11.98 10.53 1.45 20.03 16.42 3.60

Shot data taken from Hockey Analysis, scoring chance data tracked by yours truly.

So, this kind of goes against what my observations tell me. The Hurricanes actually give up roughly the same amount of shots per game at even strength when Peters is in net as they do in front of Ward. However, they give up a lot more overall chances and it appears that Peters is under siege a lot more than some think. Perhaps this is due to the rebounds he gives up. They are creating a lot of offense in front of Peters, but they are also making him do quite a bit of work to keep them in games. Although, I guess this isn't too much of a surprise when you consider that only six teams in the NHL give up more shots per 60 minutes during 5v5 play than the Canes have this year.

To sum things up, Peters' recent performance isn't just a product of the defense or the Canes system. He is playing terrific, but the issue is wondering how long it will last. Is 17 good games enough to convince you that Peters is an NHL goaltender and worth keeping over Khudobin, who is also somewhat unproven I might add? It's a tricky situation to figure out and it will be interesting to see how Jim Rutherford handles this.