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Goaltending will once again make or break the Hurricanes season

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So far this offseason is taking shape the same way as the previous four or five for the Carolina Hurricanes

There is the yearly talk that forward Jeff Skinner is on the verge of being traded without — to this point — actually being traded.

We have also now reached the point of the summer where we look at the roster, perhaps after some kind of a trade, free agent signing, or draft pick (in this case the selection of Andrei Svechnikov with the No. 2 overall pick along with the acquisition of Dougie Hamilton from the Calgary Flames), and try to convince ourselves that this is going to be the season where the Hurricanes put it all together and are good again … if only they can just get some decent goaltending. 

As much as it all sounds like a broken record, there is a lot of truth to that statement.

[Related: Beyond Karlsson: Five Players Who Could Be Traded This Summer]

Over the past four years the Hurricanes have allowed fewer shots on goal than every team in the NHL with the exception of the Los Angeles Kings. Despite they rank 20th in terms of goals against, a shocking disparity when you look at the rest of the league. You can talk about shot quality and scoring chances, but teams that are so strong when it comes to shot suppression usually — usually! — fare well when it comes to preventing goals. Teams that are bad at shot suppression are usually bad at giving up goals. It is not exactly rocket science here.

The biggest part of scoring a goal in the NHL is actually getting the puck on net. The more it happens, the more are going to end up in the net. The fewer you get on net, the fewer you in the net.

Just look at the top-10 and bottom-10 teams in terms of giving up shots on goal over the past four seasons and where they also rank in goals against.

The Hurricanes are the only team in the top-seven in terms of shots allowed that ranks lower than ninth in goals against during that stretch. The only other two outliers in the top-10 (Calgary and Dallas) are two other teams that have well documented issues finding consistent goaltending.

The only outliers on the right side are, really, the New York Rangers (Henrik Lundqvist masks a lot of flaws) and Florida Panthers (Roberto Luongo masks some flaws, too). Maybe the Columbus Blue Jackets, too (they have a two-time Vezina Trophy winner in their net).

With the additions of Hamilton and Calvin de Haan in free agency that defense is going to be just as strong, if not better, than it has been the past few years, and that hat will still be true whether or not they trade Justin Faulk.

The issue, again, is going to be whether or not they have anybody in net that can give them even average play in net.

For years it was Cam Ward that had a stranglehold on the position, and for the better part of the past six or seven years was one of the least productive goalie in the league. At different times they have brought in successful backups to perhaps push Ward and maybe even take the job away from him and perhaps solidify the position, including the likes of Anton Khudobin and Eddie Lack. None of them succeeded.

The latest attempt came last offseason when they traded a third-round pick to the Chicago Blackhawks for Scott Darling and then immediately signed him to a four-year, $16 million contract extension.

Year one of the Darling era was … well … more of the same in the Carolina net as Darling’s .888 save percentage was 32nd out of 32 goalies to appear in at least 40 games. It was also one of the 10 worst performances over the past 20 years (again among goalies that played in at least 40 games). It had to be a large disappointment for the Hurricanes, not only because the investment they made did not produce immediate results, but also because Darling had been really good in Chicago as Corey Crawford‘s backup. Then as soon as they get him in Carolina everything completely fell apart in his first attempt at being a regular starter (or at least as a semi-regular starter).

Despite that tough debut the Hurricanes seem willing to stick with him and give him another shot, especially after letting Ward go in free agency and only signing Petr Mrazek (who was, to say the least, not good for the Detroit Red Wings and Philadelphia Flyers this past season) to push him for playing time.

The net, it seems, still belongs to Darling.

His attempt at bouncing back — as well as everything that led to his down year in 2017-18 — was the subject of an in-depth article this week by Luke DeCock at the News & Observer where he details Darling’s work to improve his physical conditioning and attempt to show up at camp in better shape than he did a year ago. Given the season Darling had a year ago, it certainly can not hurt.

If you are a Hurricanes fan there are a couple of things that should give you cause for optimism even after a decade of the same story over and over again.

For one, there is every reason to believe the shot numbers and underlying numbers this team has produced are an accurate reflection of what it is capable of defensively. It is a good defensive team, and it has good players on the blue line, and it added even more of them this summer.

There is also a pretty striking parallel here with another perpetually mediocre team that always seemed to be just a goalie away from competing — the Winnipeg Jets.

For years the Jets stuck with their same core of players, they stuck with the same goalie, they would have consistently good underlying numbers, and they would always lose because their goalies, for lack of a better word, stunk. Then one year they got a chance to draft a superstar goal-scorer with the No. 2 overall pick (Patrik Laine) to bring everything together up front, and then they finally found a competent goalie in Conor Hellebuyck. The result: An organization that had made the playoffs just once in the past 10 years and had never even won a playoff game was in the Western Conference Final, just a handful of wins away from the Stanley Cup Final.

Are the Hurricanes, as presently constructed, really that far away from where the Jets were heading into the 2017-18 season? While the Jets were built around a group of talented forwards, the Hurricanes have built their core around the blue line — and it is excellent. The point, though, is that there is a young, talented core in place here that could be capable of competing this season. How quickly Svechnikov is able to develop will play a big role in the outcome of the season, but the biggest issue will once again be in net.

They do not need him to be a savior. They do not need him to be Henrik Lundqvist or even a top-five goalie But if Darling is able to be the goalie the Hurricanes thought he could be when they traded for — and signed — him a year ago, an average to maybe slightly above average starter, they could be a lot better than anyone expects them to be, and a lot sooner than any expects them to be, too.

Related

Hurricanes Continue To Strengthen Defense With Calvin de Haan Signing
Hurricanes Get Dougie Hamilton From Calgary Flames

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.

Devils’ Brian Boyle receives Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy

Brian Boyle of the New Jersey Devils is the recipient of the 2018 Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy

The award is given to the player “who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey.” The Professional Hockey Writers’ Association nominate a player from each of their 31 chapters and three finalists are named after a vote.

Roberto Luongo of the Florida Panthers and Jordan Staal of the Carolina Hurricanes were the other two finalists.

A $2,500 grant from the PHWA is awarded annually to the Bill Masterton Scholarship Fund, based in Bloomington, Minn., in the name of the Masterton Trophy winner.

Boyle was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia in September and missed the opening month of the season before returning Nov. 1. One week later he scored an emotional first goal of the season. He inspired a mural in New York City and later represented the New Jersey Devils at the NHL All-Star Game in Tampa in place of teammate Taylor Hall.

The Devils forward didn’t only deal with a cancer diagnosis this season. Boyle and his wife, Lauren, also went through an ordeal where doctors believed their two-year-old son Declan was possibly dealing with Ewing sarcoma of the mandible. Turns out it was a rare condition that impacts blood flow and oxygen circulation, and after a handful of procedures the situation is under control.

Boyle’s red and white blood cell counts show little traces of CML remaining. He told Dan Rosen of NHL.com this week that he could be off medication in three to six months.

“I am in a good spot,” Boyle said. “I’m certainly not concerned.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

WATCH LIVE: 2018 NHL Awards

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NBCSN will televise the NHL Awards on Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET from Las Vegas, as the NHL celebrates the top performers of the 2017-18 season from the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino.

[CLICK HERE TO WATCH THE LIVE STREAM — 8 P.M. ET]

The 2018 NHL Awards will recognize the best regular-season players in a variety of categories, including most valuable player (Hart Trophy), outstanding goaltender (Vezina Trophy), outstanding defenseman (Norris Trophy) and outstanding rookie (Calder Trophy). The Ted Lindsay Award, which is presented annually to the “most outstanding player” in the NHL as voted by fellow members of the National Hockey League Players’ Association (NHLPA), will also will be awarded. Vegas Golden Knights’ George McPhee and Gerard Gallant are finalists for General Manager of the Year and the Jack Adams Award, respectively. New Jersey’s Taylor Hall, Los Angeles’ Anze Kopitar and Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon are all finalists for the Hart Trophy.

Full list of 2018 NHL Awards finalists

Hart Trophy: Taylor Hall, Nathan MacKinnon, Anze Kopitar

Ted Lindsay Award: Taylor Hall, Nathan MacKinnon, Connor McDavid

Vezina Trophy: Andrei Vasilevskiy, Connor Hellebuyck, Pekka Rinne

Norris Trophy: Drew Doughty, Victor Hedman, P.K. Subban

Calder Trophy: Matt Barzal, Brock Boeser, Clayton Keller

Selke Trophy: Anze Kopitar, Sean Couturier, Patrice Bergeron

Jack Adams Award: Gerard Gallant, Bruce Cassidy, Jared Bednar

Masterton Trophy: Brian Boyle, Roberto Luongo, Jordan Staal

GM Of The Year: George McPhee, Steve Yzerman, Kevin Cheveldayoff

Lady Byng Trophy: Ryan O’Reilly, William Karlsson, Aleksander Barkov

King Clancy Memorial Trophy: Daniel and Henrik Sedin, P.K. Subban, Jason Zucker

Mark Messier Leadership Award: Deryk Engelland, Wayne Simmonds, Blake Wheeler

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Where does Alex Lyon’s 94-save performance rank in hockey history?

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Flyers prospect and Lehigh Valley Phantoms goalie Alex Lyon was a busy man on Wednesday night, as he turned aside 94 of 95 shots in the longest AHL game in history. The game was decided in the fifth overtime period and it ended six hours after it started. In total, they played 86:48 in overtime and in all, it lasted 146:48. That’s a workout!

Believe it or not, Lyon still fell short of setting an AHL record for most saves in a game.

So, how does this marathon game and Lyon’s 94 saves stack up against some of the similar performances in hockey history? Let’s take a look.

NHL: 

• Montreal Maroons vs. Detroit Red Wings – March 24, 1936

According to NHL.com, the longest game in NHL history ended in the sixth overtime period of the 1936 Stanley Cup Semifinal between the Montreal Maroons and Detroit Red Wings. The Wings won the game 1-0 on a goal by Mud Bruneteau after 116:30 of overtime was played.

Red Wings netminder Normie Smith apparently lost 12 pounds during the game. He turned aside 92 shots in the shutout victory. That remains an NHL record to this day. Fun fact: he won the Vezina Trophy the following year.

• Boston Bruins vs. Toronto Maple Leafs – April 3, 1933

Prior to the Maroons and Red Wings playing the longest game in history, the record was owned by the Leafs and Bruins. They also skated in six overtime periods, but they “only” played  104:46 of extra hockey before Toronto’s Ken Doraty scored to give the Leafs a 1-0 win. Fun fact: the general managers on both teams agreed that a coin-flip should decide the outcome of this game because it was dragging on too long. The players objected, so they kept playing.

• Philadelphia Flyers vs. Pittsburgh Penguins – May 4, 2000

Alright, finally a game that’s a little more recent than the previous two. Keith Primeau scored the game-winning goal in the fifth overtime period. On top of the 60 minutes they played in regulation, these two rivals skated for an additional 92:01.

Flyers goaltender Brian Boucher (57 saves on 58 shots) was busy, but he didn’t face as much rubber as Penguins netminder Ron Tugnutt, who turned aside 70 of 72 shots in the loss.

The three games we just mentioned are the only ones in NHL history that were longer than last night’s AHL game game between the Phantoms and Checkers. 

• New York Islanders vs. Washington Capitals – April 18. 1987

This game is actually the 10th longest contest in NHL history (68:47 of overtime was played before Isles forward Pat Lafontaine scored the winner), but Islanders goalie Kelly Hrudey was forced to make 73 saves on 75 shots. The NHL only started officially tracking shots on goal as a statistic in 1956, so that’s why many consider Hrudey’s performance to be an NHL record even though we know Normie Smith stopped more shots back in 1936.

• Vancouver Canucks vs. Dallas Stars – April 11, 2007

Roberto Luongo‘s playoff debut was pretty long. After giving up four goals in regulation, he had to play another 78:06 of overtime to come away with his first postseason win. He also had to work pretty hard to get it, as he turned aside 72 of 76 shots the Stars sent his way. The 76 shots against are an unofficial NHL record, but he fell one save short of tying Hrudey’s mark of 73.

AHL: 

• Philadelphia Phantoms vs. Albany River Rats – April 25, 2008

Former NHL goalie Michael Leighton turned aside 98 of 101 shots the Phantoms sent his way in a 3-2 loss in five overtimes. The overtime portion of the game lasted 82:58 before Ryan Potulny scored the game-winner for Philadelphia.

“It doesn’t matter how many shots they got, they got the win. It’s definitely disappointing for myself. It was fun to be a part of a game like that, but you want to end it on a winning note,” Leighton said at the time.

That’s gotta be a tough way to lose.

• Hamilton Bulldogs vs. Houston Aeros – May 30, 2003

Before Leighton owned the record for most saves in an AHL game, that mark belonged to former Edmonton Oilers netminder Ty Conklin. During the Calder Cup Final, Conklin turned aside 83 of 84 shots in a 2-1 win over the Aeros, which ended in four overtime periods.

EUROPE:

Storhamar Dragons vs. Sparta Warriors – March 13, 2017

This Norwegian League clash lasted longer than any of the other games on this list. The Dragons eventually won the game, 2-1, in the eighth overtime period. The game ended over eight hours after it started.

The Dragons outshot the Warriors 96-93, which means the Warriors goalie stopped 94 shots, while the Dragons netminder turned aside 92 shots.

MORE:
NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs 2018: Conference Finals schedule, TV info
NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Boyle, Luongo, Staal are 2018 Masterton Trophy Finalists

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Brian Boyle of the New Jersey Devils, Roberto Luongo of the Florida Panthers and Jordan Staal of the Carolina Hurricanes have been named finalists for the 2017-18 Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy.

The award, which is voted on by members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association is given to the player who “best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.”

PHWA chapters in each NHL market nominate a player for the award each year and the top three vote-getters are then designated as finalists.

The winner will be announced at the NHL Awards show in Las Vegas on June 20.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Brian Boyle’s story – via the NHL:

Before Boyle set foot on the ice as a New Jersey Devil, he faced his biggest test. At the start of training camp the 33-year-old was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia, a type of bone marrow cancer. He worked his way back into the lineup by Nov. 1 and notched 10 goals over his first 25 games, including a memorable goal on the Devils’ Hockey Fights Cancer Night at Prudential Center, a 3-2 win over Vancouver on Nov. 24. Boyle missed just three games after his season debut and represented the Devils at the 2018 Honda NHL All-Star Game in Tampa Bay. While handling his own illness, his family and his career, Boyle has approached every day with the same optimistic attitude and perseverance that has inspired and lifted the Devils’ locker room.

Roberto Luongo’s story – via the NHL:

Luongo, 39, overcame hand and groin injuries during the season and backstopped the Panthers’ drive for an Eastern Conference Playoff berth. Sidelined by injury since early December, the franchise’s all-time leader in wins, shutouts and appearances returned on Feb. 17 to help the Panthers defeat Calgary 6-3 and ignite a Florida rally in the East’s Wild Card race. In a 13-game span, Luongo went 9-3-1 with a 2.44 GAA and .928 SV%. On Feb. 22, Luongo delivered a heartfelt, unscripted speech to the crowd at BB&T Center prior to Florida’s game against Washington. The 12-year resident of nearby Parkland, Fla., addressed the recent Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting during the Panthers’ pregame ceremony to honor the victims.

Jordan Staal’s story – via the NHL: 

Showing leadership and strength amidst a family tragedy, Staal was a key component of the Hurricanes throughout the season. In late February, Staal and his wife, Heather, announced their daughter, Hannah, was delivered stillborn due to a terminal birth defect previously diagnosed by doctors. Staal, who had assumed a bigger leadership role with the young Hurricanes by being named co-captain before the season, missed just three games following the tragedy. He registered 46 points (19 goals, 27 assists) in 79 games, the second-highest goal and point totals in his six seasons with Carolina. The 29-year-old skated in his 800th NHL game on Dec. 27 against Montreal and scored his 200th goal on Jan. 12 against Washington.

2018 NHL Award finalists
Calder Trophy (Sunday)
Lady Byng Trophy
Norris Trophy
Selke Trophy
Vezina Trophy


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck