My Kingdom for a League-Average Goalie
The Carolina Hurricanes are hoping that they finally have an answer to the never-ending goalie question.
After an “okay” first two starts upon returning from his lower-body injury, Scott Darling has started to catch his stride. Over his last three starts, he is 2-0-1 with a .924 save percentage. The run of strong outings has bumped his save percentage for the season up to .913, which is four points higher than the current league-average of .909.
It’s a small sample size but, all things considered, it’s hard to deny that Darling has had a good start. Especially, when you consider that he didn’t see NHL action for a full month (due to a lower-body injury) after his outstanding preseason.
The second-year Hurricane has had his fair share of timely saves and highlight reel moments, to boot.
Scott Darling flashing the leather. Huge save. pic.twitter.com/HreSQWPHYd— Brett Finger (@brett_finger) November 13, 2018
Scott Darling with ANOTHER huuuge save. A clear-cut breakaway for Schmaltz, but Darling comes up big. pic.twitter.com/z8TalFd3l1— Brett Finger (@brett_finger) November 13, 2018
Scott Darling. Absolutely unreal. pic.twitter.com/Qib8Y73CCD— Brett Finger (@brett_finger) November 11, 2018
It now comes down to consistency for Darling. He needs to keep bringing this level of goaltending every night. He also needs to get rid of the soft goals - goals he absolutely should not allow.
If he can turn into the goalie that he has been in the past and needs to be for the Hurricanes to be competitive in the present, it’ll be one hell of a comeback story for a guy whose entire career has been a comeback story.
You don’t have to buy into him right now. I know I’m not.
That said, don’t ever let yourself think that Darling can’t defy the odds, because every person that has done that in the past has ended up being wrong.
My Kingdom for Appropriate Player Usage
When Justin Williams was drafted in the first round of the 2000 NHL Entry Draft, Andrei Svechnikov was just three months old.
More than 18 years later, Williams, now age 37, is the captain of the Hurricanes and Svechnikov is the 18-year-old second-overall pick who appears to be on the verge of breaking out in a big way.
I think it’s time for the Hurricanes to get realistic about what they have in both of these players.
While Williams’ leadership and locker room presence, alone, makes his spot on the roster warranted, his rapid decline in on-ice performance is concerning. It’s concerning to the point where Rod Brind’Amour and his staff need to find a different role for him. He’s no longer a top-six forward in the NHL. He’s slow, he’s shooting an abysmal 1.9% (one goal on 52 shots on goal), he’s making poor decisions with the puck, he’s a liability both on the rush and defending the rush, and it makes no sense that he is averaging 17:22 of ice time.
That is the most ice time he has average since the 2007-08 season. He was 26-years-old. He is now 37-years-old. It’s time to put an end to this ridiculous player usage.
Meanwhile, Svechnikov has been trending in the exact opposite direction. After seeing just 12:41 of ice time per game through his first 12 games in the NHL, Svechnikov is averaging 15:24 over his last six games and has seen north of 16:00 in three of those six games. In turn, he has logged four points in that span - the same number of points he produced in his first 12 games.
Andrei Svechnikov is a big man. As is Micheal Ferland. They combine to tie this hockey game. pic.twitter.com/K7zuR2b3CF— Brett Finger (@brett_finger) November 13, 2018
Andrei Svechnikov. Goal City. 4th of the season. 1-0 Canes in Chicago. pic.twitter.com/Cof5sfuVc6— Brett Finger (@brett_finger) November 9, 2018
The growing role of Svechnikov should be accompanied by the shrinking role of Williams. The Russian rookie is hitting his stride and appears to be on the verge of taking the next step in his very young NHL career. He has a much more valid case to be in the top-six than a guy like Williams.
A lot plays into this. Brind’Amour’s unwavering respect and love for Williams can’t make this an easy situation to tackle. That said, cutting down Williams’ ice time will benefit all parties. The lower ice time should help Williams stay fresh and, most importantly, help the Carolina Hurricanes win hockey games.
My Kingdom for a Goal or Two
They say it’s about the journey, not the destination. For the Hurricanes, the journey has been extremely promising, but the destination has left people scratching their head.
Through 18 games, the Canes’ shot volume and shot quality have been outstanding. At 5-on-5, the Hurricanes have a league-high 235 high-danger shot attempts (shot attempts from high-danger areas like the slot or around the crease). That is 45 more high-danger shot attempts than the second-place San Jose Sharks who have 190. The difference between the second-place Sharks and the 15th-place Edmonton Oilers (146 high-danger shot attempts) is the same difference between the Canes and Sharks.
Long story short, the Hurricanes have been generating high-danger scoring opportunities at an unheard-of rate. It’s insane. They’re currently on pace to finish the season with 1,071 high-danger shot attempts at 5-on-5. That would be the most an NHL team has logged since Natural Stat Trick started keeping track of high-danger shot attempts in the 2007-08 season.
The 2013-14 Islanders currently have the most, and they had 949. That’s 122 fewer high-danger shot attempts than what the Canes are on pace for.
Now, will the Hurricanes actually finish with north of 1,000 high-danger shot attempts? Probably not. My reason for pointing this out is to add some legitimacy to what the Hurricanes are doing right now.
There’s a method to their madness.
They aren’t losing because they aren’t getting great chances. They’re getting the chances they need to get in order to be successful. The problem is Carolina’s clear lack of shooting talent.
That starts with Williams, whose expected goals for of six is five more than his actual goal total of just one. That’s the largest negative disparity in all of hockey and, again, it serves as an example of how he is regressing. The shooting talent he once had is now gone.
Also among the league’s most underproducing players is Lucas Wallmark, Jordan Staal, and Valentin Zykov.
Here are some of your biggest underperformers so far.— Sean Tierney (@ChartingHockey) November 13, 2018
Williams: -5 goals vs expectation
Unless we think these are demonstrably below-average shooters, expect results to improve if they keep doing their thing.https://t.co/M8uhduNoBG pic.twitter.com/bywYY2kOCT
This team needs more players who can capitalize on opportunities when they get. Players like Micheal Ferland.
Ferland is going to get a big pay day from the Hurricanes thanks to his ability to capitalize on high-danger scoring chances. He is doing that better than anyone on this team which is why he leads the team with nine goals in 18 games.
He and Andrei Svechnikov are tied atop the entire league in high-danger shot attempts at 5-on-5 with 28. Ferland lives in front of the net and his game is complimented very well by skill players like Sebastian Aho, Teuvo Teravainen, and Johnny Gaudreau.
Imagine what a guy with the finishing talent like Svechnikov’s can do with more talent around him. I love Lucas Wallmark and I appreciate what Jordan Martinook brings to the table, but they aren’t Aho or Teravainen or Gaudreau.
I think the solution is, simply, adding talent to this team’s forward group. I know, that’s not a very tough conclusion to come to.
You can get by and be successful with a first line of Ferland-Aho-Teravainen. You can’t get by with a second line of McGinn/Foegele-Staal-Williams. In a perfect world, that would be your third-line that you throw out there in a shutdown role. Unfortunately, the Canes just don’t have the talent that they need to form a second scoring line. Instead, they have one scoring line, one shut down line, and two lines that will try their best to score but probably won’t with any consistency (barring a hot streak like the one that the Wallmark line went on early in the season).
Until that talent is present, scoring will be an issue. On the bright side, there are young players who should, in theory, help this cause. Martin Necas, Janne Kuokkanen, Julien Gauthier, and others are on their way. Necas, in particular, is the key here. If he can come up and be the center of a good scoring line (one that includes Svechnikov), your problem could be solved in short order.
Hopefully, the Canes will be able to get by in the meantime. The return of Victor Rask from his hand injury could really help, but it also doesn’t make much sense to put that much faith in a guy who has underperformed and is also coming off of a pretty serious injury.
Maybe William Nylander could help? Imagine Nylander and Svechnikov on the same line. Seeing those two dynamic offensive players hop over the boards after a shift from Aho and Tervainen would be pretty terrifying for opponents.
Or maybe there’s a guy in Buffalo who could help. Honestly, I’m 100% over the Jeff Skinner trade opinions, but a guy (or two) like him who can capitalize on scoring chances is what this team needs right now. Granted, I don’t think there’s a snowball’s chance in hell that Skinner would be producing the kind of numbers he is right now if he were still in Carolina.