Can Darling, Mrazek finally give Hurricanes better goaltending?

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Asking the Carolina Hurricanes to get better goaltending sometimes feels like asking water not to be wet.

This franchise has been through a lot since it gradually became clear that Cam Ward wasn’t quite the brilliant netminder he seemed to be in leading them to a stunning Stanley Cup in 2005-06. Really, it says a lot about how much Carolina clung to the hope of Ward being “the guy” that it’s taken until 2018-19 for the two sides to move on.

Carolina brought Scott Darling in during the 2017-18 season in hopes that he’d be the next, say, Cam Talbot or Martin Jones: a backup who turned out to be an effective starter. Instead, Darling proved to be the latest goalie who couldn’t cut it in Carolina, putting up the sort of stats that only looked solid during Gretzky’s dynasty days with the Oilers: 13-21-7 with an abysmal .888 save percentage.

Those are the sort of stats that make you step back and maybe take a seat for a moment. Such stats should send a goalie directly to a sports psychologist.

The question, then, for the Hurricanes is: can Darling salvage his career? Were his strong numbers with the Chicago Blackhawks merely a mirage? And, can Petr Mrazek revitalize his career, either instead of Darling or alongside him?

Having a good attitude won’t necessarily cause fewer pucks to go in Carolina’s net, but shaking off a colossal failure of a 2017-18 season is absolutely crucial for Darling and the Hurricanes.

Judging by an entertaining Q & A with the Hurricanes website, it sounds like Darling is taking a positive approach to a potential tandem with Mrazek, and it also seems like the towering goalie hasn’t lost his sense of humor.

” … Having Petr (Mrazek) come in will be good. He’s kind of in the same boat as me; we’re both trying to prove that we can be the guy we’re supposed to be. I’ve had the chance to talk with him a little bit, and he seems like an awesome guy. Overall, the team as a whole, I’m extremely optimistic about this season.”

Darling also points out something interesting, and a matter that has to put a lot of this in perspective. Not only have Darling and Mrazek faced each other in the NHL and AHL, but they’ve also been in opposite nets as far back as their ECHL days. That’s what happens when you come across a big sixth-rounder (Darling went 153rd overall in 2007) and an athletic fifth-rounder (Mrazek was selected 141st in 2010). These goalies were forced to fight to prove that they even belonged in the NHL, let alone deserved chances at starting gigs.

So, such a thought should provide Hurricanes fans with at least some solace.

It’s also fair to argue that a season can simply get away from a player, goalies included. Darling’s 2017-18 was undoubtedly a disaster, yet his overall body of work in the NHL has been very promising lately, which is why he received a risky contract in the first place. In 75 games with Chicago, Darling managed a dazzling .923 save percentage. Sure, those starts were likely sometimes cushier than the ones he’ll enjoy with Carolina, yet goalies can be unpredictable. Recent examples are comforting, whether they actually forecast sunnier days or not.

(Mrazek’s successes have been dynamic at times, too, although his stronger moments are starting to get a little more distant. He hasn’t really enjoyed a great run since managing a .921 save percentage with Detroit in 2015-16.)

The rest of the Q & A is fairly standard stuff. OK, standard stuff for hockey off-season fodder; from here, it seems like a 29-year-old giant of a goalie making $4.15 million per season probably shouldn’t wait until now to address, you know, nutrition.

My girlfriend has been great. She’s a vegetarian and eats really healthy, so she’s been teaching me how to eat healthy, which I had no idea how to do.

Anyway, it’s a fun read. The most fun stuff comes when Darling discusses getting big on ‘the gram (his dog has a way to go to catch Jaccob Slavin‘s two floofy doodles), and some of the more mundane stuff like TV watching. If nothing else, it seems like Darling can be charming.

Also, the dog.

/Subscribes to The Daily Moose.

Apparently Darling is responsible for the captions, and they seem quite regal indeed.

So, if history repeats itself, people might look back at this almost-inevitable “feeling great in the off-season/best shape of my life” story and shake their heads at any optimism about Darling and/or Mrazek. There’s the chilling possibility that Darling has simply been exposed, or that last season’s failures broke his confidence. On the other hand, both goalies have enjoyed considerable success in the past, so a rebound or two is far from impossible.

If nothing else, Darling is holding down the fort when it comes to doggos.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.

Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

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MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

“I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

“I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

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SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.