Can Hurricanes count on Mrazek, McElhinney?

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Goaltending remains the question – the eternal one, really – for the Carolina Hurricanes, even as Petr Mrazek and Curtis McElhinney have provided some satisfying short-term answers.

As great an addition as Nino Niederreiter has been, the combined play of Mrazek and McElhinney has been instrumental in the Hurricanes’ success, even if those “jerks” and their celebrations have taken most of the attention.

There’s something remarkable and unlikely about each situation.

In the case of Mrazek, his numbers transform to become more impressive than when they first meet the eye. Just consider his erratic split stats.

October: .887 save percentage in seven games
November: .840 in one game
December: .917 save percentage in eight games
January: .880 in seven GP
February: .935 in five GP

While Mrazek’s overall save percentage is mediocre at .902, his even-strength mark is at .922 this season. If he can get things together on the penalty kill, his numbers could climb quite nicely.

Mrazek, 27, might be getting his career back on track – maybe – but the even more intriguing story is that of McElhinney. With a .946 save percentage in February, Mac is even hotter than Mrazek, yet the 35-year-old has sustained that over a longer haul in 2018-19, as his save percentage is a very nice .920 in 22 games.

Not bad for a player who was claimed off of waivers, and considering his recent run, other teams who passed should be kicking themselves.

Among goalies who’ve played at least 30 games since 2016-17, McElhinney’s .923 save percentage (in 61 games) trails only that of Antti Raanta, who managed .924 in 89.

That’s impressive stuff, but it’s also a) a small sample size and b) generated by a goalie who’s, again, 35.

Really, each guy has some serious things working against him, along with some strong points. Mrazek’s shown significant athletic ability, enjoyed some high moments in Detroit, and is still in or around his prime at 27. That said, Mrazek’s also been digging out of a serious rut, which you can even see just in his total numbers being fairly pedestrian (and sometimes bad). McElhinney’s put up some nice numbers in recent years and has a strong-for-a-backup .910 save percentage during his overall career, yet he’s never carried much of a workload, and things could fall apart considering how cruel Father Time can be to older goalies.

Each goalie does have every incentive to keep this going, however, as they’re both on expiring contracts and would be UFAs. One or both of Mrazek and McElhinney could be out of the NHL in 2019-20, yet they’re both in a position to possibly earn more lucrative deals.

On Feb. 10, Hurricanes GM Don Waddell acknowledged that uncertainty to NHL.com’s Tom Gulitti.

“We’d look at maybe a goalie for down the road,” Waddell said. “I think this year both guys have done a good job for us to put us in our position, but they are both unrestricted at the end of the year. So you’ve got to be careful there. I don’t know what either one of their plans are, so we’ve just got to stay in tune with that …”

The longer-term questions are indeed there, but this specific playoff push should factor in, too. Can Carolina count on McElhinney and Mrazek to finally break their drought? If not, should the Hurricanes flip the script with the Flyers by trading for one of their glut of goalies as insurance? Would Waddell even go bolder if someone like Sergei Bobrovsky becomes an option?

The answers aren’t necessarily abundantly obvious, but at minimum, this sure beats the monotony of falling far short of playoff contention while squirming at the sight of a struggling Cam Ward.

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.