Carolina Hurricanes: Season Report card – goaltending

PHILADELPHIA, PA - JANUARY 03: Carolina Hurricanes Goalie Petr Mrazek (34) tends net during the game between the Carolina Hurricanes and the Philadelphia Flyers on January 3, 2019, at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, PA. (Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - JANUARY 03: Carolina Hurricanes Goalie Petr Mrazek (34) tends net during the game between the Carolina Hurricanes and the Philadelphia Flyers on January 3, 2019, at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, PA. (Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /

The Carolina Hurricanes are now exactly halfway through their 2018/19 season, and are riding an exciting four-game win streak as they look to challenge for a playoff spot. This week we’ll be looking at how each part of the team is performing – we began yesterday by awarding Head Coach Rod Brind’Amour a B-, and today we look at the team’s goaltending.

It has been some time since the Carolina Hurricanes had consistent goaltending. Scratch that – it’s been some time since they had consistently GOOD goaltending. Which makes this season somewhat of an enigma, as they have received good goaltending from not just one, but two goaltenders. Who could ever have envisaged such a day?

In previous seasons, the Canes have seen the following save percentages from their goalie tandems: .897% (2017/18), .904% (2016/17), .906% (2015/16), .907% (2014/15) and .915% in 2013/14. Literally, the last time the Carolina Hurricanes had vaguely decent goaltending was in 2013/14. This season, the team’s goaltenders have a combined save percentage of 0.906% – but that is increasing with each passing game, and was brought down by the underwhelming performances of Scott Darling.

The fall and fall of Scott Darling

Every Carolina Hurricanes fan knows the story of Scott Darling. The Canes acquired Darling from the Chicago Blackhawks in 2017, and quickly anointed him as their starter by signing him to a 4-year, $4.15m AAV contract. His first three NHL seasons saw save percentages of .936%, .915% and .926%, and Canes fans had confidence that the team’s iffy goaltending had been sorted once and for all.

It didn’t happen. Darling’s first season in Raleigh saw just 13 wins, a save percentage of 0.888% and a GAA of 3.18. Somehow that record was made even worse this year, as in eight starts Darling had a GAA of 3.34 and a save percentage of just .884%. He was waived by the Canes, and the team hasn’t looked back since.

Darling has not improved in the AHL either; he currently sports a save percentage of just .889% in nine games, and his statistics are worse than both Alex Nedeljkovic and Callum Booth. Sadly for Scott Darling, his time with the Carolina Hurricanes is 100% over. The only question is whether any NHL team will gamble on him recovering his previous form or whether the team will buy him out next summer.

The emergence of Curtis McElhinney

Who knew that the best goaltender on the Carolina Hurricanes would be a 35 year-old veteran backup plucked off waivers? That’s precisely what’s happened, as Curtis McElhinney has become the de facto number one for the Canes after starting 15 games, winning nine of them and posting an astonishing save percentage of .923% and GAA of 2.20.

That is without the benefit of posting a shutout – the only goaltender with a better GAA has two shutouts to his name – and so it’s arguable that Curtis McElhinney has not only been the best goaltender for the Carolina Hurricanes, but the best goaltender in the entire NHL.

He has suffered a couple of minor niggles, which even allowed Scott Darling back for a game, but there is no question that with McElhinney in net, the Carolina Hurricanes look dangerous as they clearly have confidence in their goalie.

The rebirth of Petr Mrazek

Petr Mrazek was a free agent signing in the off-season on a cheap one-year, $1.5m deal. Coming off two average seasons with Detroit and Philadelphia, with save percentages of .901% and 0.902%, Mrazek has found his game again with the Carolina Hurricanes. While his record to date this season shows a save percentage of just .900%, that save percentage has increased over recent weeks due to his stellar play, and he is trending in the right direction (.917% in December).

Just like Scott Darling, Mrazek began his NHL career with some excellent statistics; in 166 games with Detroit he posted a .912% save percentage but, unlike Darling, he’s continued to keep his save percentage north of .900%. Mrazek is a fine and capable backup and if something were to happen to Curtis McElhinney, Mrazek has proven capable of handling an increased workload.

How do we grade the goaltending?

The highest grade goes to Curtis McElhinney, who gets a straight A. He went from being placed on waivers by the Maple Leafs at the start of the season, to sporting one of the best stat sheets of any goaltender in the league by the halfway point. He has far surpassed all expectations and I am a little bit in love with him, to be honest.

Petr Mrazek began slowly, but his recent play has been good. We give him a B-, and look for him to continue to improve over the coming weeks as the Canes’ season heads into its critical phase.

Scott Darling continued his terrible time in the Canes’ net, and ultimately paid the price for not being able to provide solid goaltending. Simply put, we are being generous and giving him an E for effort; in hindsight, it was a disaster of a trade for the team, but kudos should go to Don Waddell for moving on from Darling and allowing Mrazek and McElhinney to handle goaltending duties.

Next. Season Report card - Rod Brind'Amour. dark

The Carolina Hurricanes have had some of the best goaltending they’ve had for years this season, and it’s part of the reason why the team remains in the playoff hunt. Yesterday we saw that Rod Brind’Amour had begun his coaching career well, and today we have seen that goaltending is also serving the Canes well. Tomorrow we look at the Canes’ defense, and whether the Corsi Gods will shine down on their boys when we give them their halfway grades.