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.