Friday night, the Carolina Hurricanes wrapped up their preseason with a home tilt versus the Washington Capitals. They won 3-1, and the team looks ready for the season to start as they look to make a another run at the playoffs.
Scott Darling made his first appearance in goal on his new team’s home ice. The Hurricanes’ new starting goalie had been nursing an injury, and not gotten the kind of ice time in the preseason that he or head coach Bill Peters would have liked.
Darling’s injury was only characterized as being “banged up” and was not even given the customary hockey “upper-body” or “lower-body” hint. Nevertheless, he finally suited up for last Monday’s game against the Edmonton Oilers, after missing the first four Hurricanes’ exhibition games. The result was good, with the Hurricanes winning 6-2. Darling made 19 saves out of the 21 shots he faced from the Oilers.
Brought in by general manager Ron Francis in May, Darling is slated to be the starting goalie for the ‘Canes. He went 18-5-5, with a 2.38 goals-against average and a .924 save percentage in 32 games played for Chicago in 2016-17. This leaves longtime netminder Cam Ward as the backup for the first time in his tenure with the Hurricanes.
Ward has been very professional during his transition from being “the guy” to being the backup to Darling. In a post at NHL.com, Ward is quoted as telling the Raleigh News & Observer:
I’m realistic. I understand the situation. I know he was brought in here to sign a four-year deal for pretty good money not to be a backup. I know where I am in my career. Certainly I’m a competitive guy and I still want to be able to play and I’ll do whatever I can to earn that ice time, but I’m hopeful he can make that next step. He deserves that.
Ward has had a good run with the Hurricanes, reaching hockey’s pinnacle as a rookie in 2006. He helped the team win the Stanley Cup and won the Conn Smythe trophy, too. He said he knows he is in the second half of his career and not the first, but that is okay.
Ward has played hard and been a steady hand on a team that has struggled for a long time. No one can point to Ward as the reason the teams are in an eight-year playoff drought. He’s a good backup for the Hurricanes to have, even if he is nearing the end of his career.
Playing the Oilers again two nights later, Ward got the nod from head coach Bill Peters, and was the starter. Ward got shellacked 4-0, on 22 shots faced. But, as the Raleigh News & Observer pointed out, he was without the Hurricanes’ top two defensive pairings — Jaccob Slavin, Justin Faulk, Brett Pesce and Noah Hanifin.
Nothing can really be inferred about a team when the starters are in large part scratched from the lineup. And it works both ways. For example, Darling and the Hurricanes got the 3-1 win against the Capitals Friday night, but both teams had a long list of healthy scratches. Alexander Ovechkin and Braydon Holtby did not play for the Capitals. Might things be different when both teams are at full-strength and the games have meaning?
Preseason Wrapped, Ready to Go
Absolutely they will be different. This is a crucial season for the Hurricanes, as all eyes are on them with expectations that this will be the season they break the playoff drought. The Hurricanes, as well as the other teams in the league, have pared down their rosters and are ready to go. The season is here, with the ‘Canes opening up at home Saturday night against the Minnesota Wild. This is unusual as the team has started their last several seasons on the road.
This is hopefully something that the Hurricanes will take advantage of. Getting a better start in October is something crucial for this team. As I pointed out in “Hurricanes: Out of the Gate” in June of this year, Octobers have been brutal for the Hurricanes. They have started the season horribly in recent years, and need a great start this season to compete for a playoff spot. Perhaps opening at home and playing game two at home, will turn the tide and bring positive momentum.
Darling will likely be the “X” factor. He only saw action in two complete preseason games. It may take him some time to acclimate with his new teammates. We will see if he is worth the confidence that Francis has in him. If he is, they just might be playing hockey in May in North Carolina next year.