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By the Numbers: Investigating Team Play in Front of Scott Darling

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Despite an encouraging summer and preseason, Scott Darling still looks like the least appealing goaltending option on this roster. Does the rest of the team shoulder any blame in his disappointing tenure thus far in Carolina?

Jamie Kellner

Through seven starts this season, Scott Darling is posting a .893 even-strength save percentage and a 3.14 goals-against average. The former statistic is 58th out of 62 goalies in the league who have appeared in five or more contests thus far, but it’s still early and he’s only started seven games on account of a pesky lower body injury suffered in preseason. It hasn’t all been bad, as he strung together a solid stretch a few weeks ago in which he posted a combined .924 SV% in three starts. But he quickly fell out of form in his next two starts.

Something I’ve heard thrown around a lot this season is the observation that the team plays worse when Darling is between the pipes. The claim isn’t unique to this season — it was a talking point about a year ago when Cam Ward was heating up and reclaiming the starting job that was figuratively given to Darling upon his signing of a four year, $16 million contract with Ron Francis.

I found myself agreeing with the point last season as it seemed like the defense played a more steady game in front of the familiar Cam Ward while looking jumpy and out of sync with their newly christened starter in net. That being said, I’m not so convinced that the team in front of him is to blame for his poor play this season. So I wanted to dig through some numbers in an effort to uncover any truth in the claim that the team performs worse with him on the ice.

Something to keep in mind in this analysis is that Curtis McElhinney and Petr Mrazek have played nine and eight games this season respectively while Darling has appeared in just seven. This data is still meaningful but it’s a fairly small sample size.

Team Statistics by Goaltender

Player GP TOI CF CA CF% FF FA FF% SF SA SF% GF GA GF% SCF SCA SCF% HDCF HDCA HDCF% HDGF HDGA HDGF% MDCF MDCA MDCF% MDGF MDGA MDGF% LDCF LDCA LDCF% LDGF LDGA LDGF% On-Ice SH% On-Ice SV% PDO
Player GP TOI CF CA CF% FF FA FF% SF SA SF% GF GA GF% SCF SCA SCF% HDCF HDCA HDCF% HDGF HDGA HDGF% MDCF MDCA MDCF% MDGF MDGA MDGF% LDCF LDCA LDCF% LDGF LDGA LDGF% On-Ice SH% On-Ice SV% PDO
Petr Mrazek 8 382.3333333 489 289 62.85 367 214 63.17 252 146 63.32 17 11 60.71 232 158 59.49 110 60 64.71 10 7 58.82 122 98 55.45 4 4 50 214 106 66.88 3 0 100 6.75 92.47 0.992
Curtis McElhinney 9 424.0333333 471 406 53.71 355 298 54.36 264 209 55.81 18 12 60 220 185 54.32 109 85 56.19 12 10 54.55 111 100 52.61 4 2 66.67 209 182 53.45 2 0 100 6.82 94.26 1.011
Scott Darling 7 345.3833333 394 312 55.81 294 241 54.95 209 169 55.29 6 20 23.08 191 157 54.89 79 72 52.32 5 12 29.41 112 85 56.85 1 7 12.5 172 128 57.33 0 1 0 2.87 88.17 0.91
Natural Stat Trick

The table above shows team metrics while each goalie has been on the ice this season. I’ve attached sort and search functionality so that you can pick through it yourself. Upon first look there doesn’t seem to be much delta here in terms of shot and possession metrics between the three goalies. The team has performed notably higher in these categories with Mrazek in net, but I think we can chalk that up to both sample size and quality of competition.

With respect to defensive play, there’s really nothing out of the ordinary in terms of high danger shots against or scoring chances when comparing Darling to his counterparts. In fact, after last night’s barnburner in Montreal, Curtis McElhinney is looking like the most heavily tested goaltender in the trio. It’s relevant to note that before last night Darling had been seeing quality chances at a slightly higher rate than the other two, but there wasn’t enough of a discrepancy for me to draw any meaningful conclusion from.

The most interesting thing about this data is Darling’s team shooting percentage versus that of McElhinney and Mrazek. The Hurricanes are currently shooting at an abysmal 5.7% at full strength — dead last in the NHL. For the 350 minutes that Darling’s been in net, the Canes have shot at a measly 2.9%. That’s historically bad. The team is shooting in the 6.8% range with McElhinney and Mrazek on the ice, which is still subpar but at least a bit closer to NHL average. The team’s inability to capitalize on shots and scoring chances with Darling on the ice is a very peculiar trend and one that I’d like to blame on small sample size thus far.

The Hurricanes have been defined by inability to capitalize on a wealth of scoring chances through the first quarter of the season. But the fact that they’re significantly worse at it in front of Darling is enough for me to raise an eyebrow at. I still think that given a few more starts that team shooting percentage with him on the ice will creep up closer to the team average, but I’ll be sure to keep an eye on this as the season goes on.

In conclusion, I haven’t found much statistical evidence to support the claim that the team performs significantly worse in front of Scott Darling as opposed to the other goalies on the roster this season. As previously mentioned, he’s been bogged down by injury early in the season and may need a few more starts on a regular schedule to prove his value to this team — I think he deserves that much. But the blame for his disappointing play thus far rests on his shoulders.