As the Carolina Hurricanes embark on a new NHL season Thursday night, they’ll be doing it with familiar faces all over the ice.
Two of those familiar faces for Carolina will play in net, as Petr Mrazek and James Reimer both return as the Canes’ two goaltenders despite some constant rumors and talks this past offseason that the Hurricanes may be looking to upgrade between the pipes.
Now, with an unusual season and schedule that will prove quite different for every NHL team, the Canes will have to lean on both of their two goalies to navigate a new division and format. The good news for head coach Rod Brind’Amour and the rest of the organization is that the faith and confidence in both Mrazek and Reimer to perform is certainly there.
“Both of them are going to have to be ready for us,” said defenseman Jake Gardiner. “I think they’re both capable, and we feel good with either one of them in net.”
Like Gardiner said, the Hurricanes should feel pretty good with either one of them in net. They split time last year, with Mrazek starting 14 more games but Reimer actually putting up slightly better numbers.
Reimer’s 2.66 GAA and .914 save percentage were both in the top 21 in the NHL, while Mrazek sat right behind him with a 2.69 GAA and a bit further back at a .905 save percentage. Both goalies turned out a quality start percentage of .500 or greater, with Reimer’s .625 mark putting him ninth in the league among goalies that started 20 or more games.
Even if Mrazek wasn’t as good in 2019-20 as he was in 2018-19, he was a dependable guy to put in net who showed brilliance at times, and Reimer proved to be a great addition to play as a backup with a much more consistent role than the typical backup.
Moving into a 2021 schedule that features 56 games in 121 days and a format that’s unlike any the NHL has ever seen before, having two reliable goalies instead of one could prove to be quite the benefit to any team that has the luxury, the Hurricanes included.
“I think it’s gonna be tough to ride one goalie in this schedule,” Brind’Amour said. “I don’t see how you could do it. It’s good to know that we’ve already done this kind of rotation with these two guys. We feel real confident in it. They both look good and ready to go. It sets up well for us. This type of schedule is not going to be an issue for us because we do have two guys that we like.”
While the condensed 2021 season doesn’t necessarily feature more back-to-backs or a higher frequency of games than a normal year, it’s still going to be a sprint to the playoffs. With added protocols and outside stressors for every team in place, the mental wear and tear on players is likely going to mix with a lack of a full training camp to make things a bit harder.
While Mrazek said he isn’t too worried about it, saying to him it really looked like a normal season, Reimer did talk about how important a rotation and staying fresh is going to be for the Canes’ success.
“You’re playing constantly,” Reimer said. It’s kind of like after the All-Star break to the end of the year. It’s kind of a sprint. That’s kind of what this season will be. If your guys can be fresh, especially with goaltenders, if you can have your legs every night and you’re getting in there regularly so you’re not feeling off when you get in there, I think it bodes well.”
Another huge factor that comes into play when looking at the need for two reliable goalies is the way the schedule is structured, with all but four of the Canes’ 56 games coming in two-game miniseries, so to say, of back-to-back outings against the same team.
Being able to change goalies between those games could be a big benefit for teams like Carolina, as just providing a different look in net for the opponent could throw things off enough to make a difference. For the Canes, Reimer and Mrazek certainly offer different styles of goaltending as well.
As he was with the schedule as a whole, Mrazek didn’t seem too concerned about the prospect of having to play a team twice in a row.
“We’ll see how that’s going to go,” Mrazek said. “I saw that we play Columbus four times in a row in March or April. It’s going to be a little different, but I think every game starts from 0-0. Every game is different. One game you could let in six goals and then the next game you could shut them down. You just have to go game by game.”
One final benefit of having two reliable players to put in net comes down to COVID-19, a grim but likely unavoidable reality for every NHL squad as this season approaches. If Mrazek or Reimer either one has to spend time away as a result of a positive test or contact tracing, hopefully the other is still there to shoulder the load.
That’s something the team will have to figure out, how to keep them and every player available, but the foundation of a great relationship between the two goaltenders will certainly help things along. While Reimer said him and Mrazek won’t be able to get meals together and spend quality time together like they did last year, they’re still going to be each other’s biggest fans.
“We’re going to have to figure that stuff out,” Reimer said. “Our relationship is good. We help each other out there. We push each other out there in practice. When games come around, I’m his biggest fan when I’m not playing. I’m trying to keep him up when the games go on and just be a sounding board.”
Mrazek and Reimer were a formidable tandem a year ago, and Brind’Amour will certainly hope to get more of the same from the duo. Despite the lack of a full camp and preseason games, both goalies said they feel good physically and ready to go, and Carolina’s going to need them to be starting Thursday night in Detroit.