Saturday night saw 26 teams in action across the National Hockey League and just one shutout. We will also take a look at a top goaltending prospect picking up right where he left off in the American Hockey League and wish a happy birthday to a former Stanley Cup winner.
Hellebuyck Perfect in Minnesota
In spite of their slow start to the season, the Minnesota Wild had been playing great hockey at the Xcel Energy Center. In fact, they had not suffered a regulation loss on home ice since the opener against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Oct. 12. That all changed when the Winnipeg Jets came to town Saturday afternoon.
The Jets rolled into St. Paul and dominated the Wild from the word go. After the dust settled, Connor Hellebuyck made 31 saves in a 6-0 blowout win.
“I think the guys in front of me played fantastic,” Hellebuyck said. “Anytime they put up six, it helps. I just thought our overall game, we never took a shift off.”
Hellebuyck now has three shutouts on the season, why ties him with Tristan Jarry of the Penguins and Pekka Rinne of the Nashville Predators for the most in the league. His 18 wins is just one behind league-leader Frederik Andersen of the Toronto Maple Leafs and his .926 save percentage (SV%) is ninth among all goaltenders.
Kahkonen Does What He Does Best
Speaking of the Wild, their top goaltending prospect, Kaapo Kahkonen got his first taste of life in the NHL while Devan Dubnyk took a leave of absence from the team. The young Finnish netminder played well in his time in Minnesota going 3-1-1 with a 2.96 goals-against average (GAA) and .913 SV% in his five starts.
With Dubnyk returning to the team, Kahkonen is back with the Iowa Wild in the AHL and he played a big part in their win on Saturday night. He made the biggest of his 31 saves in overtime versus the Grand Rapids Griffins as he stopped Taro Hirose’s breakaway attempt. The Wild broke out on an odd-man rush after the big save and seconds later Dmitry Sokolov deposited the game-winner into the Griffins’ net.
Kahkonen has 10 wins on the season, which is only four behind league-leader Mikhail Berdin of the Manitoba Moose. That is pretty impressive when you consider he spent a month in the NHL.
Happy Birthday, Scott Darling
Today, Scott Darling is celebrating his 31st birthday and it wasn’t very long ago when gave us one of the best comeback stories of perseverance and recovery.
Darling’s long journey began when he was drafted by the Phoenix Coyotes in the sixth round of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. As he admitted many times, Darling began abusing alcohol during his sophomore year at the University of Maine, which eventually led him to be dismissed from the team. After being cut by the Louisiana IceGators of the Southern Professional Hockey League in 2011, Darling stopped drinking and rededicated himself to the game.
The following season he made his way back to the ECHL and spent most of the 2013-14 season playing for the Milwaukee Admirals in the AHL. His play in Milwaukee earned him a one-year contract with the Chicago Blackhawks, the team he grew up cheering for in Lemont, IL.
He made his NHL debut on Oct. 25, 2014, and made 32 saves in a 2-1 win over the Ottawa Senators, becoming the first SPHL player to play in an NHL game. Later in the season, after being demoted to and recalled from the AHL, Darling was rewarded with a two-year contract extension.
Blackhawks fans will always be grateful for Darling’s performance during the 2015 Stanley Cup playoffs. He replaced a struggling Corey Crawford in a first-round game versus the Nashville Predators and made 42 saves in a double-overtime win. He set an NHL record in his debut for the longest relief appearance without allowing a goal (67:44) and the most saves in a relief appearance without allowing a goal. He started four more games in that series before giving the net back to Crawford on the Blackhawks’ way to their third Stanly Cup six seasons.
Shortly after the 2016-17 season ended, Darling’s rights were traded to the Carolina Hurricanes for a third-round draft pick. He signed a four-year, $16.6 million contract in Carolina and was considered a number one NHL goaltender for the first time in his career.
Unfortunately, Darling never matched the success he had with the Blackhawks during his time with the Hurricanes. He struggled to put up a 3.20 GAA and .887 SV% in his 51 games. On Nov. 29, 2019, he was placed on waivers and reassigned to the Charlotte Checkers in the AHL. He was granted a personal leave of absence in February.
Darling was traded to the Florida Panthers, along with a sixth-round pick, for James Reimer last June and the final two years of his contract were bought out. He is currently playing in Austria’s top-tier league, the EBEL, for HC Innsbruck where he has a 3.82 GAA and .898 SV% in 10 games.
Darling’s story and road to becoming a Stanley Cup champion is nothing short of an inspiration, especially for those who battle for recovery just by getting out of the bed in the morning. Happy Birthday, Scott!