Carolina Hurricanes: Who Should Get the Playoff Nod in Net?

The Carolina Hurricanes have a choice to make in net.

The Carolina Hurricanes have an outstanding amount of talent in net. Who should get the nod for the qualifying round against the Rangers?

Training camp thus far has produced more questions than answers about who will see the net first in the qualifying round playoff series against the New York Rangers. Sara Civian of The Athletic (paywall) spoke to head coach Rod Brind’Amour about who will start in the net:

“I feel really good about everyone we have here. I can’t tell you how it’s gonna shake out, and to be honest, we haven’t really talked about it. . . right now, we’re still in that mode of ‘Let’s get everybody going,’ then there are tough decisions we’ll have to make — but that’s what we hope to have in a week from now.”

Civian also adds that “I saw Petr Mrazek stray uncomfortably far from the net Saturday to play the puck, and it was a successful adventure.” Mrazek is back and ready to leave it all on the ice along with James Reimer, and Charlotte Checkers’ standouts Alex Nedeljkovic and Anton Forsberg. All four netminders have regular-season highlights, but who deserves to start in the net?

If training camp has led to a common mantra, it is that the Hurricanes have been given a fresh start, and an opportunity to claim the Stanley Cup after a season that may have trended in the opposite direction.  Unfortunately, this fresh start may very well mean that the hot streaks of the regular season will be left in the regular season.

Anton Forsberg and Alex Nedeljkovic played three and four games respectively during the regular season after James Reimer and Petr Mrazek were injured during the February 22nd contest against the Toronto Maple Leafs.  Although I do believe one of these young goaltenders (if not both) is the future of Canes goaltending, I don’t see either getting the nod in the playoffs.

To be clear, I think that Forsberg and Nedeljkovic performed better than their numbers reflect. Neither goaltender averaged above a 900 save percentage for their appearances; however, I think they built a strong foundation for their futures with the team. Both proved that they can perform on the national level and anchor the team.

There’s no way to know if there will be a scenario in which either young goaltender will see significant time in the net; however, I think that playoff experience would value both players immensely. If there is a scenario in which this is possible, I look forward to seeing how Forsberg and Nedeljkovic will shape up in the playoffs.

The decision will probably come down to either Mrazek or Reimer. As much as I would like to believe that Reimer can ride his regular-season streak into the postseason, he has not played a game since February 22nd. I do still believe that he will be an important key for the playoffs, but he will have to work hard to get ready after an even longer absence than the rest of the team.

Reimer was impressive during the regular season, with his best performance culminating on January 11th against the LA Kings, a shutout in which Reimer stopped all 41 shot attempts that he faced. Fourteen wins, six losses, and a .914 save percentage is quite a fine season that should warrant strong consideration for a playoff nod.

Petr Mrazek accumulated 21 wins and 16 losses with an average of a .905 save percentage.  Mrazek only played one game after his injury, so this puts him in more or less the same position as James Reimer.

One advantage that Mrazek does hold is that he was hot in the 2018 playoffs against the Washington Capitals and the New York Islanders. No Caniac will likely forget these series, and Mrazek was a large part of this playoff run. Mrazek shows up in the playoffs, and that is something that will certainly be on Brind’Amour’s mind when he makes his decision.

I think that Brind’Amour should take advantage of the depth of the team and rotate Reimer and Mrazek. I can’t say I would be unhappy with either netminder receiving the start, but I would start Reimer and rotate with Mrazek as necessary. The first game against the Rangers may determine the rest of the series, and I have no doubt that the chosen netminder will come ready to play.