Hurricanes goal celebrations

Getty Images

Can Hurricanes count on Mrazek, McElhinney?

2 Comments

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.

The Buzzer: Seguin shines for Stars; Another big night for Avs

Getty

Three Stars

1. Mikko Rantanen

Friday was another night where the Avalanche’s big three forwards (Rantanen, Nathan MacKinnon, and Gabriel Landeskog) all factored into the win; in fact, each player nabbed at least one goal. You may be shocked to learn that Colorado is undefeated in 2018-19 when all three notch at least a single tally.

Consider this a “shared” number one between Rantanen, MacKinnon, and Tyson Barrie, as they’re the three players who managed three points on Friday.

You could actually argue that MacKinnon enjoyed the better night, as he logged more ice time, didn’t take any penalties (Rantanen was whistled for four PIM), and fired an impressive eight shots on goal. Rantanen because two of his three points were goals, and one of those goals stood as the game-winner. Again, all three had a great night, so feel free to remix this as the Avalanche sweeping the three stars, if that give you warm and fuzzy feelings.

We’ll get to Barrie’s milestone accomplishment in the factoids section.

2. Matt Murray

Did the Penguins go into the Spider-verse and channel playoff Matt Murray? The 24-year-old generated a 33-save shutout, and it came against the lethal Jets offense, which (clicks on calculator) should then make this could as a double-decker shutout. Or something.

Seriously though, Murray is on a streak that’s just about as impressive as the one his team is on. While the Penguins have won eight in a row, Murray is personally only one behind, as he’s on a seven-game winning streak. He’s generated two shutouts during that run, and the most goals he’s allowed in one game was three, and that only happened once.

The Penguins have added to their winning streak since this post went up, yet the thesis remains: goaltending is leading the way, and Murray + Casey DeSmith are almost certain to cool off eventually. Even so, this is a remarkable run, and Friday stands as one of Murray’s best performances.

3. Tyler Seguin

Seguin joined Rantanen as the only two players to generate two goals on Friday, and while Rantanen managed his three-point output in a 6-1 laugher, the Stars needed every bit of offense that they got from Seguin.

The scapegoated Stars star scored both of Dallas’ goals in a 2-1 OT win against the Capitals, firing four SOG.

Seguin also managed this performance without Jamie Benn, as the Stars’ captain missed the contest with an injury. Seguin’s now has two goals in each of the last two games, while extending his overall point streak to four contests (two goals, two assists).

People are going to rush to give Stars CEO Jim Lites a ton of credit for blaming Seguin and Benn while using language suited for 30-minute HBO stand-up specials, but make no mistake about it: Seguin deserves the praise.

Highlights of the night

Opinion: someone should check Red Wings forward Andreas Athanasiou for an actual turbo button. How else could you explain this second sixth gear?

This is more of a lowlight, but still:

We should all root for an extended Hurricanes winning streak, just to see if they run out of elaborate celebrations:

Sweet shootout moves from Drew Stafford.

Factoids

A reminder that the Avs have employed some great defensemen, but few of them for very long. Also: that Tyson Barrie probably deserves more hype as an impressive scorer. Barrie scored 57 points last season … and that was in just 68 games. He’s now at 30 in 38 games for 2018-19 after a three-assist (possibly three-star-worthy) Friday, and managed an impressive feat:

In case you’re wondering, John-Michael Liles had 275 points in 523 Avs games, while Barrie hit 278 in 444.

Dylan Larkin has basically half of a season to either tie the single-season record for overtime goals, or he could end up all alone with six or more.

The Jets/Thrashers haven’t won in Pittsburgh in a long time, and the Stars have had similar success against the Capitals when they’ve come to Dallas.

Scores

Penguins 4, Jets 0
Red Wings 4, Predators 3 (OT)
Hurricanes 4, Blue Jackets 2
Stars 2, Capitals 1 (OT)
Avalanche 6, Rangers 1
Devils 3, Coyotes 2 (SO)
Golden Knights 3, Ducks 2

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.