Carolina Hurricanes' goaltending more effective than you think it is
The perception that goaltending is the Carolina Hurricanes’ vulnerability is not shared by those counting on it the most.
“I can’t think of one game (this season) where our goalies didn’t keep us in the game,” Carolina general manager Don Waddell told Hockeybuzz.com. “And I can think of many games where our goalies have won us the game.”
Last offseason, and before this season’s trade deadline, we heard and read about Carolina’s need to upgrade their goaltender. But that kind of speculation never came out of the ‘Canes camp.
“My confidence is very high because we have shown this year we have three capable guys and we’d be comfortable with any of them starting,” Waddell said.
With Petr Mrazek (9 starts), rookie Alex Nedeljkovic (21) and James Reimer (21) sharing the net load this season, the Hurricanes own the NHL’s third-best goals-against average (2.33) and save percentage (.922).
Those are statistics that would probably surprise many in the hockey world.
Only the Vegas Golden Knights and New York Islanders are better at keeping the puck out of their net this season. The Golden Knights own the NHL’s best team GAA (2.16) and second-best save percentage (.924), while the Islanders are first in save percentage (.926) and second in GAA (2.20).
Mrazek is Carolina’s unofficial No. 1 goalie, but he was sidelined for roughly two months with a thumb injury. In his nine starts, he is 5-1-2 with a 1.60 goals-against average and .939 save percentage. Nedeljkovic is 14-4-3 with a 1.89 GAA and .934 save percentage, while Reimer is 15-5-2 with a 2.66 GAA and .906 save percentage.
Coach Rod Brind’Amour hasn’t indicated how he will play his goalies in the postseason, although it would be logical to conclude that Mrazek, in his third season in Carolina, will be his first choice and Nedeljkovic would be backup. However, Brind’Amour has also been comfortable using Reimer this season.
“Not knowing yet how the playoffs will be structured, not knowing how condensed the schedule will be, you might have to have multiple goalies playing in the playoffs,” Waddell said.
Nedeljkovic has never played an NHL playoff game, but Waddell views that as misleading.
“He did win a Calder Cup in the American League,” Waddell said. “It doesn’t matter what level you are at. He has played in high pressure games and has performed well. He has that experience going for him.”
The bottom line: Carolina’s goaltending has performed better than most people realize. You can argue that the team’s save percentage and GAA are more about Carolina’s talented defensive corps and Brind’Amour’s defensive system. Yet, there are other quality defensive teams that don’t command the GAA and save percentage that Carolina boasts.
Mrazek has three shutouts in his nine starts. Mrazek and Nedeljkovic have .944 and .942 even-strength save percentages, which places them among the league’s best in that category. The goalies have undeniably done their part for Carolina, even though pundits still say the team would have been better off to change goalies coming into this season
You will not get any bold predictions from the Hurricanes. But they believe in their goaltending, much more than the hockey world does.
“Our defense has been the strength of our hockey team for the last few years,” Waddell said. “And our goaltending has provided us the opportunity to win each and every night.”