Petr Mrazek has not looked steller in his first two games back from injury. Should Rod Brind’Amour switch out the Carolina Hurricanes netminder?
With the Carolina Hurricanes trailing Boston 2-0 in the Eastern Conference finals, first-year head coach Rod Brind’Amour has a difficult decision to make. Does he stick with struggling Petr Mrazek in goal, or switch to Curtis McElhinney in search of a spark?
Brind’Amour and the Carolina Hurricanes deftly managed their goalie situation throughout the regular season, rotating between Mrazek and McElhinney for most of the team’s brilliant run in January and February. Each stayed sharp with regular work, and neither wore down.
In the first two games against the Bruins, Mrazek has not looked like the same goalie who compiled a 23-14-3 record with a 2.39 goals against mark. He has struggled to make routine stops. Boston’s first goal in Sunday’s 6-2 win is a prime example, when a shot by Matt Grzelcyk leaked through Mrazek and into the goal. During the season, he blocks that shot 99 times out of 100.
His aggressive style has also resulted in him getting out of the net a few times, allowing the Bruins to score on rebounds or extra passes. And he may still be feeling the effects of the groin injury that shut him down in the second round.
To be fair, the Canes’ defense has plenty of problems, including a penalty kill that has allowed four Power Play goals in the first two games. Nonetheless, it may be time to bring in the unflappable McElhinney, who was stellar in the final three games of the sweep against the Islanders after Mrazek was sidelined with a groin injury.
In the playoffs, coaches tend to ride with one goalie, hoping a hot hand can carry the team. As a result, Brind’Amour, who has never yanked a goalie during a game in his brief coaching career, may be hesitant to make such a change in the postseason. Teams have done it before and found success.
The Washington Capitals, last year’s Stanley Cup Champions, switched goalies late in the second game of their opening series to Columbus, replacing Philipp Grubauer with Braden Holtby. The Caps lost that game in overtime to fall down two games to none, but kept Holtby in net for the next game, rallied to win that series and go on to take their first Stanley Cup. The next time Grubauer saw the ice, he was in Colorado.
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When the Canes won the Cup in 2006, rookie Cam Ward and veteran Martin Gerber took turns replacing each other in net. Gerber started the opening two games but yielded to Ward midway through the second game. Ward started the next 12 games, leading the Canes to series wins over Montreal and New Jersey.
In the Eastern Conference finals against Buffalo, Ward was pulled in Game 3. Gerber started Game 4 and pitched a shutout, but when he allowed three goals in the first 22 minutes of Game 5, head coach Peter Laviolette put Ward back in. Carolina rallied to win that game, and Ward stayed in net for the remainder of the postseason.
Mrazek was a major factor for this team’s unexpected success this season, and the Canes should make re-signing him a top priority for this offseason. But for Carolina to extend its postseason run beyond this week, it may be time to bring in McElhinney.