Yeah, it’s another article about the goaltending.
But it’s good news this time!
Ever since the now infamous incident in which Bill Peters used a not-fit-for-print word to challenge Eddie Lack to up his game, the Swedish goalie has responded in kind and turned in five outstanding performances in a row.
The latest of which came last night in a crucial victory in Montreal over the first-place Canadiens. Lack stopped 21 of 22 shots in the 4-1 winning effort. Leading the team to a victory in a building that they hadn’t won in since 2012 with their playoff hopes on the line is a monumental effort, and the best part is that it arguably wasn’t even Lack’s best performance in his last five outings.
I’d argue that that came last Thursday, when he stopped 31 of 32 against a strong Minnesota Wild team in an effort that kept Carolina’s point streak alive in a game that they probably didn’t deserve to win.
In his last five games on the whole, Lack is 4-1-0 with a .947 save percentage.
The best part about the stretch is that Lack has been doing it without all that much help from the defense in front of him. In those five games, Corsica.hockey has the Hurricanes at 12.56 expected goals against at 5-on-5 play. That’s 2.96 per 60 minutes of even-strength play, which is well above the team’s year-long 60 minute average of 2.57.
Thanks to Lack’s stellar performance, the actual amount of goals the ‘Canes have given up at 5-on-5 in those games is... four. Getting goaltending that performs better than it should based on your team’s defensive performance is a great way to win hockey games, but it also probably is not sustainable over the long run.
In his tenure as head coach, Peters has made it clear that his goaltending strategy is to favor the guy with the hot hand. We all saw him do that with Ward through November and December, but when Lack got hot for a few games recently, Peters went back to Ward in Philadelphia and Florida.
Ward has been alright recently, with a solid .925 5-on-5 save percentage in six games in the same time frame as Lack’s run, but that doesn’t come anywhere close to Lack’s .965 number over that time.
One is left to wonder what level of play Lack will have to achieve before he’s earned the trust of his coach enough to be given the keys for an extended stretch of time. We’ll have a better feel for that when we know which goalie goes tomorrow in New Jersey.
With just ten games left in the season, and the Hurricanes having a very real chance to qualify for the playoffs, I’d argue that there’s no time like the present for Peters to ride Lack’s hot hand and see where it can get them.
Maybe, just maybe, if Lack’s current form and apparent confidence are things that he can keep going, Carolina can turn around their goaltending narrative and be led somewhere great by a goalie playing like a man possessed for a few weeks.
I think we can all agree that narrative is something we’d like to put behind us.