The Checkers have known for a while just how good goalie Justin Peters has been since returning from injury this month. Now, he’s getting some outside recognition as well.
On Thursday, the AHL named Peters its Goaltender of the Month for November after a stellar period in which he posted a 5-1-1 record with a 1.63 goals-against average and .949 save percentage. The award marks the first such honor for the veteran of five AHL seasons who was named an AHL All-Star during his last full season in the league in 2009-10.
“Personally, I’m being rewarded for the way our team is coming together,” said Peters, who has accounted for three wins during the Checkers’ team-record five-game streak. “We’re getting on the same page as a unit, and that’s reflected in your numbers as a goalie.”
For the season, Peters, 25, now ranks tied for sixth in the AHL with a goals-against average of 2.17, while his .932 save percentage ranks third. Since allowing a total of nine goals in his first two games of the season, he’s scattered 12 over his next eight contests, all but one of which has come in November.
For coach Jeff Daniels, Peters has begun to get back into a groove after being used sparingly with the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes last season.
“It’s just like any other position,” he said. "You can practice all you want, but it’s different when you get in games.”
“It’s different, but at the same time, I treat every practice like a game and like I’m going to be in the net,” said Peters, who has 10 appearances this season, just two fewer than he had with the Hurricanes in 2010-11. “Getting back to the NHL is my ultimate goal, and that’s just part of working to get back there.”
That attitude is usually what Daniels mentions first when asked about Peters, particularly when he was forced to enter the Nov. 20 win over Rockford on short notice following an injury to starter Mike Murphy. Peters, playing for the second time in as many nights, stopped 25 shots and was key in the Checkers’ victory.
“He’s a very focused person,” said Daniels. "That game was the perfect example. Even though he didn’t know he was going to be playing, he was still the first guy in there preparing.”
Peters’ November run also coincides with his return from a nagging injury that kept him out of the lineup for 16 days, beginning when he had to be helped off the ice midway through the Checkers’ Oct. 21 match-up with Houston.
“It was important to get healthy,” acknowledged Peters. “You can’t be out there second-guessing yourself with an injury. Your mind has to be on the game and nothing else.”
That seems to be the case as of now, with Peters and Murphy combining to give the Checkers’ the league’s second-best defense with an average of just 2.45 goals allowed per game. If Peters continues to feel the way he does now, that may not change anytime soon.
“I feel good and I feel comfortable in the net,” he said. “I feel more comfortable every time I get in there.”