Carolina Hurricanes

Do the Canes have a No. 1 goalie, or will it be 1A and 1B?

After a terrible season, Carolina Hurricanes goalie works towards a comeback

Carolina Hurricanes goalie Scott Darling had one of the worst seasons a goalie can have in the NHL. But this summer he's been hitting the gym to make sure what happened last season doesn't happen again.
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Carolina Hurricanes goalie Scott Darling had one of the worst seasons a goalie can have in the NHL. But this summer he's been hitting the gym to make sure what happened last season doesn't happen again.

Carolina Hurricanes fans wanting to know who the No. 1 goalie will be this season -- Scott Darling or Petr Mrazek -- may be disappointed to hear from Mike Bales, the team’s goaltending coach.

Then again, maybe not.

“We’ve got two guys who want to play a lot and that’s good,” Bales said in an interview this week. “We’ve got good competition there. But there’s no preconceived notion of who’s No. 1 or No. 2, or 1A or 1B, or whatever you want to call it.

“It’s going to be based on performance and both guys know that entering the season. If everything works out perfect and both are playing well, it will be a 1A and 1B situation.”

Darling is hoping last season, mostly nightmarish, was an aberration. He was in poor physical shape when he reported to Canes training camp, saying he weighed about 250 pounds, and never found any kind of goaltending groove, certainly nothing like the solid form he once had as a backup for the Chicago Blackhawks.

It was a different kind of season for Mrazek. It began with promise, with him again hoping to compete to be the No. 1 goalie for the Detroit Red Wings, only to struggle and be traded to the Philadelphia Flyers, where he struggled even more.

“Both have had really good seasons in the past,” Bales said. “Sometimes you have an off-season for one reason or another, but these guys are competitive guys and came into camp with the mindset they want to play as many games as possible and they have a little something to prove. And that’s great for us.”

Both have performed well, each playing twice and winning in the Canes’ 4-0 preseason. Darling had 28 saves Tuesday in the 4-1 preseason road win over the Nashville Predators, saying he planned all along to play the whole game, and has stopped 44 of 45 shots.

Mrazek hasn’t gotten as big a workload but also been effective, stopping 18 of 19 shots against Tampa Bay and the Washington Capitals.

“I think I faced less shots than I probably would expect,” Mrazek said. “We played really well in both games. We had good communication with the D and I think we got out of the zone quickly. That’s a part of why I didn’t have a lot of shots.”

Before the Nashville game, Canes coach Rod Brind’Amour said, “I think both guys have looked great and they’ve done their jobs, which made it easier for everyone else to do theirs. That’s what goaltending is, right?”

Darling, after a summer of strenuous conditioning, was down to 225 pounds by camp, which he said is ideal for him and his old “fighting weight” in the NHL.

“Scott has done everything that he’s had to do to give himself the best chance at success,” team captain Justin Williams said.

Darling had a lot of naysayers after last season, many of them Canes fans irked that their team missed the playoffs for a ninth straight year and willing to point a finger in Darling’s direction.

“Scott came into camp in much better condition that last year, and I think that makes a big difference in his outlook and how he feels about himself and the season.” said Bales, who once coached goalies Marc-Andre Fleury and Matt Murray on Pittsburgh Penguins’ Stanley Cup championship teams. “One of the biggest changes with him being in shape and with less weight is that it allows him to practice harder. When you’re doing the right things in practice and performing well in practice that’s going to translate into your game.”

Hurricanes Lightning Hockey (1).JPG
Carolina Hurricanes goaltender Petr Mrazek makes a pad save on a deflection by Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Alexander Volkov on Monday. Chris O'Meara AP

Mrazek, signed to a one-year, $1.5 million contract as a free agent on July 1, is convinced he can rebound with his new team, and there are others who know him who who believe that, too. While Darling was working out this summer in Raleigh at The Performance Academy with Bill Burniston, the Canes’ strength and conditioning coach, Mrazek was in his native Czech Republic with goalie Jaroslav Janus, a good friend, and Janus’s goalie coach Zdenek Orct.

“His biggest strength in net is that he reads the game very well, he is a pretty good skater and moves really well,” said Janus, a native Slovak and former Tampa Bay draft pick who plays in the Czech Extraliga. “He worked in summer with one of the best goalie coaches in Czech, so I’m pretty sure he will be more compact in net.”

Mrazek called that an accurate assessment, saying, “We worked a lot about position in net and the small details.”

Mrazek has said his inconsistencies the past two years have come from changing his style a little, saying he was “moving in the net a little too much, pushing outside the blue paint.” One thing that hasn’t changed or been shaken is Mrazek’s self-confidence, Janus said.

“Petr is positive and a nice guy,” Janus said by email. “Maybe for those who don’t know him he seems cocky. It’s (the) opposite for me. ... (He’s) a friend who gives lot of positive energy.

“All the goalies have ups and downs in (their) career, and for him going to a new team will be advantage. He will move on (and) I’m pretty sure he will be more motivated. It is a new challenge for him and a chance to be in his best.”

Brind’Amour and Bales want both at their best. There’s still more time to decide who will get the start Oct. 4 -- who’s 1A or 1B -- when the Canes open the season against the New York Islanders at PNC Arena.

“There’s no point in even talking about that until we get through all of preseason,” Brind’Amour said Wednesday. “Both guys have played really well, so that’s a great thing so far.”

The scouting report

Canes goalie coach Mike Bales on Scott Darling: “When he’s playing at his best he’s obviously playing big. He’s a big guy. At the same time he’s a competitive kid and very athletic for a big man. You don’t see too many 6-foot-6 guys who move as well as he does. It’s not always the cleanest look compared to some other goaltenders, but when he’s on his game he’s battling and focusing and just playing big. With Scott, sometimes he gets a little too deep in net. You can’t just rely on your size. It obviously helps. He needs to be up on top of his crease and being big.”

Mike Bales on Petr Mrazek: “Petr is a very athletic guy. He has very quick hands and quick feet, and is an excellent skater. He’s got a lot of tools and it’s just about putting everything together and being consistent. He’s very similar to ‘Darls’ in that it’s being consistent in practice and practicing the way you want to play. He’s played well in the games and that’s partly due to his practice habits.”

2017-18 statistics

G Record goals-against save pct.

Scott Darling

Carolina 43 13-21-7 3.18 .888

Petr Mrazek

Detroit 22 8-7-3 2.89 .910

Philadelphia 17 6-6-3 3.22 .891

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