Monday, October 06, 2014

Washington Capitals 2014-2015 Previews -- Goaltenders: Justin Peters

Justin Peters

“Things alter for the worse spontaneously, if they be not altered for the better designedly.”
-- Francis Bacon

In 2004, Justin Peters was taken 38th overall by the Carolina Hurricanes in the NHL entry draft, a quite respectable position from which a goaltender might be drafted. He dutifully went about moving up the development chain: two more seasons in Canadian junior hockey, two years splitting time between the AHL and ECHL, four more seasons splitting time between the AHL and the parent club in Carolina, and finally a full season in 2013-2014 as a backup goalie with the Hurricanes.

But here is the thing. Last season Cam Ward missed 23 games to injury. Anton Khudobin missed 32 games to injury. It was only when those injury spells overlapped early in the season when Peters got a long look in goal by the Hurricanes. Twenty of his 21 appearances came by December 27th; he did not appear in a game after January 19th. And before that he was waived in September with the intent of reassigning him to the AHL.

Peters has never appeared in more games in a season than the 21 in which he appeared last year. He has a total of 68 appearances over five seasons. In signing with the Capitals for two seasons last July as an unrestricted free agent, Peters gets a change of scenery, but not necessarily a change in his role. The official title might say “backup goaltender,” but he might more accurately be the emergency goaltender if one believes that should circumstances require, the number two goalie would have to bear a sustained load in Washington. And truth be told, that number two goaltender might very well be Philipp Grubauer in Hershey, not Peters.

Fearless’ Take…

A little harsh there, weren’t you, cousin? He actually did very well after a poor start last season. Peters lost his first five decisions, recording a 3.49 goals-against average and a .890 save percentage. However, in his last 16 appearances he was 7-2-4, 2.19, .928 with one shutout.  Those are not numbers to sneer at.

Cheerless’ Take…

Here’s a little comparison. There is this one team he’s had good success against in his career, 4-3-0, 1.67 goals-against average, .938 save percentage, two shutouts. Trouble is, that team is the one he plays for now, the Caps. Against the rest of the league he is 18-28-8, 3.21, .900, and one shutout. And, there is this. He has a career save percentage under .900 against 11 teams (he’s faced 26 clubs). Eight of those teams play in the Eastern Conference; four of them – the Rangers, Flyers, Penguins, and Blue Jackets – are in the Metropolitan Division.

The Big Question… Can Justin Peters generate enough confidence in his play to leave Grubauer in Hershey?

Well, that’s just it, isn’t it? Peters was waived at the end of training camp last season for the express purpose of sending him back down to the AHL. The Hurricanes, a team of modest success and with two goaltenders who missed large blocks of games to injury, did not appear to have that confidence in Peters over a longer haul to make him the one true backup. The difficulty is his consistency. This will always be a problem for a goalie that gets infrequent and often unplanned appearances. However, Peters’ year-to-year inconsistency is disturbing. His top-end numbers do not show steady or even much in the way of trending improvement. His games played notwithstanding (they vary on a year-to-year basis), his save percentages over five seasons are, in order: .905, .875, .931, .891, .919. It is not necessarily the stuff to instill confidence. But there is this. He played in 1,225 minutes last season, by far the most he has logged in any of his five seasons. A .919 save percentage over that many minutes is something on which to build.

In the end…

Justin Peters might have been signed, in part, because there would be no doubt about his role. The Caps have a near NHL-ready goaltender in Hershey in Philipp Grubauer (19 career games, 6-6-5, 2.48, .924) who will benefit from another year in Hershey. In the event circumstances dictate, Grubauer can be called up at short notice to assume the number one netminding duties, relegating Peters to more of an “emergency goaltender,” much like the third roster quarterback in professional football. Not that Peters is a deficient performer at the position. His track record to date suggests that he lacks a certain consistency in performance, but last year indicated some promise.

He will get his opportunities, perhaps as many as he had last season to show if his late season performance was not a fluke, but a trend. It would seem, though, that in the preferred state of things those appearances would be infrequent and not involve many consecutive games. Time will tell if he merely changed jerseys, not roles, and if in doing so he bettered his prospects.  For Peters, it will be a matter of seizing opportunities when presented.

Projection: 21 games, 9-7-2, 2.73, .909

Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images North America