I’ve had a question running through my mind the last few days so I wanted to throw it back to all of you Roundtable readers in the form of this poll and post.
Interesting question right? … Oh. … No? Well let me give you some things to consider.
Marek Mazanec’s superb start to the season, winning five games from five starts, lead to his lengthy stint up in Nashville. He won the NHL’s Rookie of the Month for November by winning five games and posting two shutouts. After the Predators made the move to acquire Oilers goalie Devan Dubnyk – he returned to the Milwaukee Admirals during a span that saw both goalies go down to injury. He has started all six games in net for the Admirals since returning from the NHL.
For those who’ve had the chance to watch him play this season, either in Milwaukee or Nashville, I think his positives are very evident. He plays very composed. He has good vision on the ice. He generally handles his rebounds well. Also, he does a decent job dictating the pace of a hockey game when he is on.
Where these positives seem to crash into the ground come with net front traffic. When impeded, his vision, (which is normally quite sharp) seems to go all over the place and, in his frenzy to locate pucks, can give up goals such as the recent overtime game-winner by Adam Clendening – which was almost scored from Admirals bench. Worryingly, in the AHL this season he has conceded 2.33 goals per game. He still has yet to play a game as an Admiral where he has allowed less than two goals in a game.
Before his stint in the NHL he was 5-0-0-0 with a 1.97 GAA (skewed under his two per game average due to an overtime winner 10/30/13 vs. Texas). He also had a 0.933 SV% – 140 saves out of 150 shots from five games.
Since returning from Nashville he has gone 2-2-1-1 with a 2.63 GAA. He has a 0.912 SV% – 165 saves out of 181 shots from six games. His four losses came in scenarios of two-in-two (1/18 and 1/19 in Oklahoma City) and the back end of a three-in-three (1/25 in Rockford and 1/26 in Milwaukee). Are his slight dips in performance more to do with how much he has been playing or does it come down to him?
Audio Callback, Mazanec on playing in all games of a three-in-three (1/26/14):
He’s shown himself to be great at times as an Admiral but was that little bit better for a solid month at the NHL level. The talent and capacity to perform well is there. Right now, he is incredibly consistent. The problem is his consistency means scoring three or more goals a night to win. Should he start to settle back into the Milwaukee flow – perhaps he would be the top candidate, no matter who is healthy, to play in goal for the Admirals as the stretch drive comes into frame.
What a doozie of a season it has been for last year’s breakout star Magnus Hellberg. When he was up with the Nashville Predators for pre-season camp he was injured on the first day of camp – missing most of the fun and practice. From October and November he was the team’s go-to netminder. He played in thirteen games during that span, went 3-5-4-1, 2.82 GAA, and had a 0.912 SV%. In the midst of that – he was called up to Nashville for his first ever NHL recall, made a 12:12 cameo, made 3 saves from 4 shots, and was swapped with Mazanec shortly after.
After his opening stretch, losing five games from thirteen appearances, the door opened for Scott Darling in the month of December. Hellberg’s December saw him start just four games, going 1-2-1-0, with a 2.65 GAA, and a 0.924 SV%. His lone win in that month was a reminder of his incredible talent: 12/12/13 vs. Oklahoma City – 40 save shutout. Though, as has been his 2013-14 season, the good came right with the bad waiting to pounce. His first start of December, that shutout. His last start of December (12/27/13 vs. Charlotte), he was pulled by Dean Evason after giving up 3 goals on 26 shots.
Audio Callback, Hellberg and Evason after he was pulled (12/27/13):
Then came a window of opportunity for Hellberg to play consistently in net. After a practice injury to Darling, Hellberg made a start in San Antonio at the beginning of a stretch of seven games in eleven days. This was his chance to regain form, confidence, but best of all start lots of games to work out kinks. Moment of opportunity? Good. So, where was the bad waiting to pounce? Right in the middle of the overtime against San Antonio – first start in the seven game span – just when we were expecting a heavy dose of Hellberg for the week ahead. He tried to soldier on after getting injured, but his night was over before the game even finished overtime. As far as I know, it is the dreaded lower-body injury. From early reports that I had heard, hinting that he may have had a high ankle sprain, I was shocked to see him walking around without crutches when the team returned from that very same road trip. He’s working out and keeping in game shape. He’s just not back to practice – and there isn’t a time table for him as of yet.
Were he not to get injured it’d have been fascinating to see just how the team could have handled the recent stretch of games – seven in eleven – with both Hellberg and Mazanec in camp. There’s no denying that Mazanec was running on fumes by Sunday when he became the most recent Admiral to start all games in net of a three-in-three. The last Admiral goalie to do that? Magnus Hellberg, in the clutch, in the final three games of last season, winning all of them, and earning back-to-back shutouts to get the Admirals the eighth and final playoff seed (4/19/13 vs. Charlotte, 4/20/13 @ Chicago, and 4/21/13 @ Peoria).
It’s just such a display, at the end of last season, as to what triggered this very question poll. Hellberg did it last year and was locked in from the month of February forward. If he were healthy, could Magnus Hellberg repeat what he did in last year’s stretch drive? Would he be your goalie of choice to start in -the- big games?
The Admirals are never short a few surprises during the course of a season. For my money, this year’s big surprise was the emergence of Scott Darling after being called up from the Cincinnati Cyclones of the ECHL.
Audio Callback, Mike Liambas interviews Scott Darling after a shutout (12/20/13):
His first start with the Admirals might not have been the greatest for two reasons. One, he allowed 4 goals from 29 shots. Two, an equipment issue took him too long to get back out onto the ice for the start of the third period – so he didn’t play the third period (coincidentally giving the loss to Magnus Hellberg in that game).
Ever since? Let’s just say goaltending coach Ben Vanderklok must be one happy coach – or Scott Darling is one great student. In December, he earned the the CCM/AHL Player of the Week honors in a stretch where he won both games of a two-in-two, earned a shutout, made 65 saves from 66 shots on goal for a ridiculous 0.985 SV% and 0.45 GAA (12/20/13 vs. San Antonio and 12/21/13 @ Rockford). For good measure, he also picked up the CCM/AHL Goalie of the Month of December: he played in eight games, made seven starts, had a record of 6-1-0-0, 1.12 GAA, 0.964 SV%, and recorded two shutouts.
And then the calendar switched to 2014…
In three games against the Lake Erie Monsters he allowed 13 goals from 80 shots. He won one of those three games – and in that victory he allowed 5 goals from 25 shots. His January numbers, while only three games, drastically hit a Monster wall: 4.60 GAA and a 0.838 SV%.
Then came his injury which occurred during team practice just before the team was going to travel down to San Antonio. His injury? You guessed it. The dreaded lower-body injury. Just like Hellberg though, he doesn’t have crutches and has been actively working out. I’ve had the chance to speak with him around the locker room since his injury and he is in good spirits – making me think he could be back sooner rather than later. He should be back with the team before Hellberg but, as Scott Ford reminded us all this season, hockey players laugh at injuries, can heal up very quickly, and return to game action far beyond any early prognosis or time table might suggest.
When can those two injured goalies of January come back? Your guess is as good as mine. But, when he does come back, will Darling be given the opportunity to play to the same level of consistency as he did in December? Should Hellberg and Darling return at the same time – who ends up in Cincinnati? And, should Darling come back and regain that December form, would he be the man you want to start in net when the games creep closer to the playoffs?
Hannu Toivonen. That’s a cool name. Just say it out loud a couple of times. … I digress. Anyways, the man signed to a professional try-out (PTO) right after Scott Darling’s injury is really out of the mix in my book. Why? Well, given the nature of last weekend’s series with the Rockford IceHogs: three-in-three // home-road-home :you would have expected him to turn up for one game if only to give Marek Mazanec a breather for a period or two.
Audio Callback, Evason stated he was comfortable with Toivonen in net (1/23/13):
Did he? Nope. And that should say enough about where he stands on his PTO versus Mazanec, fresh from an NHL stint, and with a guy like Darling possibly coming back in the near future. He did make some appearances as an Admiral, though. When Hellberg went down with injury he played a solid four-seconds of overtime – before taking a loss, without facing a single shot in either regulation or overtime, in the shootout – where he stopped four of six shooters (1/16/14 @ San Antonio). His other appearance? The Admirals Celebrity Serve event at Major Goolsby’s this past Tuesday. Hey, might as well have fun right?
With the added Pekka Rinne element to possibly still play out (will he come back this year, would he have a rehab stint in Milwaukee, if so what does that mean for the other goalies, etc etc) there is still much to decipher as we head into February, the NHL’s Olympic Break, and the looming NHL trade deadline and just what the Nashville Predators could be doing then – and maybe even before then. When this all shakes out though I expect Mazanec, Hellberg, and Darling to be your top choices to lead the Admirals in net into the playoffs. Whoever steps up into that role will be fascinating to see given the surrounding circumstances but, most of all, the competition and depth at the position when all are healthy. Who would you chose, if even for that one crucial game, Mazanec, Hellberg, or Darling?