“Starting in-goal for your Carolina Hurricanes, Petr Mrázek!”
That was the enthusiastic announcement that 8,364 loyal Carolina Hurricanes fans heard blare through the arena as the home team was announced for Friday night’s preseason game with the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals. The announcement made clear that the moves made in the offseason by new owner Ton Dundon and general manager Don Waddell were here to stay. This is absolutely a different Hurricanes team.
Cam Ward is gone. He will no longer be leading the ‘Canes out of their locker room after over a decade of consistency. Mrázek got that honor Friday night, and will share it with Scott Darling this season.
Jeff Skinner is gone, taking his skating and scoring talent to the Buffalo Sabres. Names like Valentin Zykov and Andrei Svechnikov grace the back of Hurricanes jerseys, worn by fans with a spring in their step, as they look forward to what the season will bring to their team and it’s new coach, Rod Brind’Amour.
Yes, Mrázek will be at the head of the line at times, as will his counterpart Darling, who had a tremendous outing Wednesday night. For a fan base that has had names like Staal and Ward as staples since 2006, change might be a blessing. As Carter Fricano, my colleague with The Hockey Writers, wrote on Friday, it is time for a culture change in Raleigh. With Brind’Amour at the helm, that culture change is happening.
But, from a practical perspective, looking at the ice and seeing Mrázek where Ward used to be is huge. Sure, there have been other netminders for the Hurricanes. Goalies like Anton Khudobin and Eddie Lack were pieces of the player puzzle that previous coach Bill Peters was dealt. Khudobin was a good goalie who was victimized by a lack of offensive support — he has since flourished with the Boston Bruins.
On the other hand, Lack was a complete mistake that former general manager Ron Francis made. Bringing in Darling was also seen as a big mistake last year, but Darling is getting another chance this season to write a new narrative. Francis in the meantime is gone.
Mrázek So Far
Mrázek is likely slotted in as the Hurricanes’ backup goaltender, but he could edge Darling out of the starter’s position, especially should Darling stumble. So far this preseason he has looked adequate for being the backup or the starter.
Against the Capitals Friday night, Mrázek played for 40 minutes and allowed one goal in 10 shots against. In an of itself that is not spectacular. Add this to his nine shots faced and nine shots saved against the Tampa Bay Lightning Tuesday night, and he is 1-19 in the preseason. It is safe to say he is doing okay in the preseason.
Of course, it’s not easy to get a completely clear picture on how Mrázek or other players will play when the games count. Obviously, there were some big guns not firing at him, such as one named Alex Ovechkin who sat out Friday night. But Brind’Amour said after Friday’s game that Mrázek looks comfortable:
He’s looked good from day one and he looked good again tonight, just real calm in there. One goal he had zero chance on, it was a breakdown on our part. Again, just keep plugging away, it’s a new day tomorrow. That’s how we’re approaching it and I think he’s looked really good so far.
Mrázek has shown in the past that he has the skills and the mental toughness to play at a very high level. At times however he has lapsed into mediocrity, and consistency will be what he needs to help the Hurricanes succeed.
Mrázek and the Hurricanes “D”
I came across an interesting bit of information on CBSsports’ fantasy site of all places that may be something to watch this season — “No team allowed fewer pucks to reach their respective goalies than the Hurricanes last season, as their strong line defenders synced up with a crop of solid two-way defenseman and permitted only 28.9 shots per game. Remember Mrázek spent six seasons in Detroit — a club that hasn’t experienced a positive goal differential since 2014-15 — before looking woefully unprepared (.891 save percentage) through 17 games following his trade to Flyers in February of 2018.”
Even though the site is geared toward providing information to those who play fantasy hockey, the information is real and could be huge going forward. First, it magnifies the bad goaltender play of the Hurricanes last season. Second, and more importantly, it might say that if the Hurricanes’ defense is a continued strength, Mrázek may flourish.
In the same manner that Khudobin did not get offensive support when he was a Hurricane, Mrázek has not had a stout defense in front of him. Now he is on a team that should have a great defense, giving him a better chance to realize his full potential.
‘Canes forward Martin Necas is Czech, as is Mrázek. Canes Country posted the transcript of an interview Necas did for a Czech television station. In a piece published on Sept. 6, Necas said that he had received this advice from his fellow Czechoslavakian: “Play my game. That’s why Carolina chose me.” Perhaps Mrázek should keep that in mind as well.
Obviously, Mrázek may not be the starter — that seems to be Darling’s spot to keep or lose. But Hurricanes fans should be particularly excited about having Mrázek on the team in case Darling’s second act is as bad as or worse than his first. This could be a very good season for the Hurricanes.