Carolina Hurricanes: Goaltending Confusion Continues

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 02: Petr Mrazek #34 of the Carolina Hurricanes watches the puck during the game against the Los Angeles Kings at Staples Center on December 2, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 02: Petr Mrazek #34 of the Carolina Hurricanes watches the puck during the game against the Los Angeles Kings at Staples Center on December 2, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) /

The Carolina Hurricanes face the Toronto Maple Leafs tonight with an unexpected tandem in goal. With Curtis McElhinney absent, the Canes are backstopped by Petr Mrazek and Scott Darling. But haven’t we already resolved this three-headed monster?

There are always some unexpected twists and turns in any NHL team’s season. For the Carolina Hurricanes, goaltending has been one of the more consistent aspects of the team’s play over recent years, albeit a disappointing one that has held the team back from the playoffs. This season was shaping up to be so different, as the Canes recently waived former starter Scott Darling and settled on the pairing of Curtis McElhinney and Petr Mrazek to carry them through to the end of the season.

So how have we ended up with a goalie controversy once again?

Poor Curtis

Inexplicably, Curtis McElhinney picked up a lower body injury earlier in the week. While it was reported that he was placed on IR retrospective to 5 December, it turns out that’s not actually the case:

Expect the Canes to give him a few more days off, and bring him back no earlier than the Arizona game this Sunday night.

One man’s misfortune is another man’s gain however, and while Alex Nedeljkovic was called up to backup Mrazek for the last game, it is Scott Darling who has received the call to backup Mrazek tonight. We will have to see how long McElhinney is out for, but with Mrazek not having played a lot of hockey himself due to recent injuries, it stands to reason that if McElhinney is indeed out for the upcoming back-to-back against Montreal and Washington, Darling is likely to start one of those games.

Could we therefore see Scott Darling muddy the goaltending waters, and re-stake his claim for the starters gig in Raleigh?

Darling’s numbers

Since being sent down to Charlotte, Scott Darling has posted some decent numbers. In five games, he sports a save percentage of .911%, with a GAA of 2.35. The Checkers won three of those games, conceding just 11 goals along the way.That would seem to indicate that Darling was sent down, knuckled down, hunkered down, and concentrated on stopping pucks the old-fashioned way.

There should be a word of caution attached to those numbers, as on paper they are indeed fairly promising. However, Canes fans should bear in mind that prospect Callum Booth, now playing in the ECHL to ensure he has ice time, sports a save percentage of .907% and a GAA of 2.27, also in five games for the Checkers. The team also won three of Booth’s games, conceding just nine goals along the way. Darling clearly has the NHL experience, but one could argue that Booth was just as deserving of a callup.

Let’s compare those two with the Checkers’ regular starter, Alex Nedeljkovic. He earned himself a quick callup for the Ducks game, but was sent down to facilitate Darling’s recall. In 18 games this season, Ned has a save percentage of just .890%, and his GAA is the worst of the three as well, standing at 2.94. The team has won 12 of his 18 games but there is some concern beginning to creep in among Canes and Checkers fans that with Ned transitioning into too-old-to-be-considered-a-prospect territory, his game isn’t stronger than we’re seeing this year:

It’s clear why Darling was called up – but whether he even gets a chance to make his mark will depend on how quickly Curtis McElhinney returns to the lineup. If it’s a quick return, Darling will surely be sent back down to Charlotte regardless of how he performs in the back-to-back. If McElhinney misses more than the week, Scott Darling could have the determination to give Don Waddell and Rod Brind’Amour a real headache again. Wouldn’t that be a nice problem to have?

Crystal ball time

We assume that Petr Mrazek and Scott Darling split the starts against Montreal on Thursday and Washington on Friday if McElhinney isn’t ready to go. The Habs and Caps are scoring goals for fun at the moment, and it’s doubtful that Darling can stonewall either team to force management’s hand – but then again, we’ve had bigger surprises this season in net already.

We welcome Scott Darling back to the Carolina Hurricanes – but please don’t hate us Scott, we hope that Curtis McElhinney is back real soon.

Next. Great Penalty Kill, Shame About the Power Play. dark

Question for CC readers:

Can Scott Darling battle his way back into the Carolina Hurricanes crease? Or is he simply making up the numbers now?