The Carolina Hurricanes rocked the preseason. They went 5-0-1 and scored a lot of goals, 28 to be exact, and only gave up 13. All in all it was a very exciting preseason for a team that is entering an entirely new era. Their only blemish was yesterday’s overtime loss to the Nashville Predators. Owner Tom Dundon surely must be excited about what he sees on the ice.
Hurricanes Shiny and New
The Hurricanes have a new owner, a new general manager, a new head coach and a new team captain. They even have a new way to listen to the games on the radio. New hope has arisen for the ‘Canes as Thursday night’s home-opener with Metropolitan Division rivals the New York Islanders approaches. However, nothing that happened in the preseason will be of any consequence, nor will the lustre of newness that is all over this team matter, if the product on the ice is not improved.
Winning will be all that matters after Thursday night’s game. This team has seen “new” as recently as four and a half years ago. New general manager Ron Francis and new head coach Bill Peters were going to bring a no-nonsense brand of hockey to the Hurricanes, and the playoff drought would be over. Four seasons later and both are gone — Francis summarily dismissed and Peters off to greener pastures up north with the Calgary Flames.
New owner Dundon has made a variety of changes, including replacing Francis with long-time hockey guy Don Waddell. He has given the coaching reins to the team to Hurricanes icon Rod Brind’Amour. The play on the ice looks different, looks new to the eye that has watched closely for the past several years. This brand of hockey is upbeat, faster paced. If the preseason is a good predictor, this brand of hockey will put goals on the board. But, that is a big “if.”
A team can be new and different, but succeeding when they keep track of points is all that matters. The Metropolitan Division is not going to be an easy place to succeed, especially with the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals predicted to be at the top again. The last three Stanley Cups belong to those two teams, and illustrate vividly the quality of competition in the Hurricanes’ Division. Success is not impossible, but it won’t come easy.
While much is new for this hockey club, there is a giant need that has been around awhile, and it will likely determine the ultimate success of the Hurricanes.
Hurricanes Goaltending Old or New?
Obviously that giant need is improved goaltending. Will the Hurricanes get the old Scott Darling in-goal, or the new and improved Darling? Darling left Sunday afternoon’s game with a lower body injury, and as of this writing there has not been an update from the team as to the extent of the injury or how long Darling may be sidelined.
Rod Brind'Amour on Scott Darling, who exited the game with a lower-body injury: "It’s a concern. I’m not 100 percent sure what it is yet. He tweaked something in the lower body."
— Michael Smith (@MSmithCanes) September 30, 2018
An injury has already cut short the season of Victor Rask, and it would be a momentum blow if Darling were out for an extended period. The old Darling was awful last year — the new Darling worked his butt off all offseason and looks new. He appears lean and mean and ready to go. He has generated his own momentum with the Hurricanes fan base behind him and believing for his success.
Darling dug himself a huge hole last season. In a word, his play was awful. He admits to being unprepared and has paid the penance of spending the offseason focused and working extremely hard. He has looked better this preseason, and there is genuine fan intrigue as to how he will play come Thursday night. With his injury, however, it may be Petr Mrázek the fans see in-goal when the opening puck is dropped.
No matter, though. Whether it is Darling, Mrázek or Alex Nedeljkovic, the flashing neon sign above the Hurricanes says, “We Must Have Better Goaltending Now.” Therein lies the key to the Hurricanes 2018-19 season. Not only is Darling’s injury a concern, but he had allowed three goals on 20 shots up to that point against the Predators, a .850 save percentage. Mrázek allowed two goals on 12 shots, a .833 save percentage. Neither are confidence-inspiring numbers.
Each had better games in the preseason, so there may be no cause for alarm. Except, of course, for the fact that the team the Predators put on the ice Sunday afternoon was very much like the team they will put on the ice when the season starts. For Darling to allow very few goals against a rink full of prospects is one thing. Putting up sub-.900 save percentages against an opponent’s NHL roster is another.
This is why the focus is and will be on the goaltending.
If the Hurricanes’ playing style matches what it was in the preseason, this team should score aplenty – something they have desperately needed for a long time. But, keeping their opponents from lighting the lamp is the “must-do” for the Hurricanes. If they have success there, they’ll very likely be playing in May or beyond. If not, it’s early golf for the team…again.
Mark lives in the Raleigh, NC area and covers the Carolina Hurricanes.