Under Pressure: Scott Darling

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Carolina Hurricanes.

So far in our team of the day series goalies have been a popular pick for the “under pressure” look, and honestly, that is probably very fitting. Goaltending can make or break a team’s season unlike any other position in the sport, and there is perhaps no team in the NHL that has come to know that more than the Carolina Hurricanes. Especially when it comes to the “break” part.

The Hurricanes have been trying to solve their goaltending issues for years, and it is a position that has probably done more to keep them out of the playoffs than any other on the team. They finally moved on from Cam Ward this offseason and will be sticking with Scott Darling as their likely starter. He might get a bit of a push from the newly signed Petr Mrazek, but make no mistake, this is probably going to be Darling’s spot to lose.

He still has a lot to prove.

[Looking back to 2017-18 | Building off breakthrough | Three Questions]

Darling arrived in Carolina prior to the 2017-18 season and immediately signed a four-year, $16 million contract. Year one with his new team — and his first as a player expected to help carry the workload over the course of a full season — turned out to be a complete disaster.  Among the 32 goalies to appear in at least 40 games his .888 save percentage was last in the NHL, and one of only two goalies (Craig Anderson being the other) to finish with a sub-.900 mark. His even-strength save percentage of .897 was also last, and the only goalie to finish below .900. Just speaking strictly from a numbers perspective, he was the least productive regular goaltender in the NHL.

Simply put, the Hurricanes need more from him, and given the additions the team made on the blue line in front of him there really can not be any excuses if his play does not improve.

The Hurricanes were already one of the best shot suppression teams in the league (and have been for several years) and only added to their blue line by acquiring Dougie Hamilton, one of the best defenseman in the league and a legitimate top-pairing playing, and signing Calvin de Haan in free agency away from the New York Islanders.

There also is not much of a safety net in place for the Hurricanes should Darling once again falter as his top backup is going to be Petr Mrazek. After a promising start to his career in Detroit, Mrazek’s play has badly regressed the past two years. Unless his career does a complete 180 upon his arrival in Carolina the Hurricanes’ success or failure is largely going to depend on what Darling can give them in net.

Given all of that there is no player in Carolina under more pressure for a big season than their starting goalie.

Related: Goaltending will once again make or break Hurricanes’ season

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.