When Petr Mrazek faced free agency last summer, he knew that he was preparing to enter the most pivotal season of his professional hockey career. After a string of disappointing experiences in Detroit and Philadelphia, the then 26-year-old netminder was just looking for a place to reestablish himself as a number one goaltender in the NHL.
He elected to sign in Carolina on a one-year deal at $1.5 million. Signing a one-year ticket to join a hockey team with the longest active playoff drought in the NHL and no clear goaltending gameplan for the year ahead is inviting a lot of pressure. And that pressure is exactly what’s driven him in becoming one of the league’s biggest success stories of the season.
Amazingly, the goaltending story in Carolina doesn’t end with Mrazek. Journeyman backup and waiver acquisition Curtis McElhinney is having a career season at the age of 35. As much as we talk about the outstanding leadership from captain Justin Williams (and deservedly so), the push for the postseason has been lead by the goaltenders — and Williams is the first person to call that out.
“I love our goalies’ competitive fire, I absolutely love it,” said Williams after Saturday’s win in Raleigh. “[McElhinney] is a little bit more calm and Petr is a little bit more fiery, but together they’ve been phenomenal for us.”
Since the start of the new year, Mrazek is top 10 among NHL goalies in Save Percentage, Goals Allowed Average, and Goals Saved Above Average (GSAA).
On New Year’s Eve, the Hurricanes were 15-17-5 and tied for 13th in the Eastern Conference. Since then, they’ve gone on an incredible 43 game run in which they posted a record of 29-12-2. Today, they sit 7th in the Eastern Conference and currently occupy the first Wild Card playoff spot with just two games remaining on the schedule. A run like that isn’t possible without a solid goaltending tandem.
Mrazek and McElhinney have been exactly that. Since the start of 2019, Mrazek has started 23 games, and has won 16 of them. McElhinney’s stats over the past few months aren’t quite as remarkable as Mrazek’s, but he’s still won 11 out of the 18 games that he started since the start of 2019. That will certainly get the job done. His exceptional year as a member of the Hurricanes has earned him a Masterton Trophy nomination and likely a nice NHL payday this upcoming summer, wherever he chooses to sign.
Goaltending is the most important position in the NHL. A solid number one workhorse is the most crucial — and often the most elusive — puzzle piece in the construction of a playoff-contending hockey team. It’s something that the Hurricanes have lacked in recent years, and Mrazek has filled that void over the past few months.
Mrazek’s .936 5v5 SV% since January 1st is 10th-best in the NHL, and only two other goaltenders have been more stingy than his 1.76 GAA. His 8.69 GSAA in that time frame, which indicates that he’s saved almost nine more goals than an average NHL goaltender would have based on the type of shots he’s seen, is good for 9th in the NHL. Most impressively, his .880 High Danger Save Percentage, third best in the league, confirms that he’s been absolutely standing on his head during this Hurricanes playoff push. Mrazek is near the top of the league in just about every relevant goaltending metric over the past few months.
An NHL team is only as good as its goaltending allows it to be, and Mrazek’s exceptional play has allowed for the Hurricanes to be one of the hottest teams in hockey in the second half of the season. This market has clamored for a true number one goaltender for nearly a decade — Petr Mrazek may be exactly that.