In Darling We Should Trust

Darling_DeepThoughts
Scott Darling hasn’t just been one of the better stories this season for the Milwaukee Admirals. He has also been their best goaltender. (Photo Credit: Scott Paulus)

With last night’s game complete, Scott Darling surpassed the amount of games played this season by Magnus Hellberg for second on the team by Milwaukee Admirals goaltenders. Did that raise an eyebrow? Because it did with me. For someone who has had the results to the toll of Darling you would think, in a survival of the fittest sense, he should be in net more than anyone else. So why hasn’t he?

Let’s start with the cold hard fact that Darling is on a one year contract that was made with the mindset that he would be the organization’s man in Cincinnati. And, you know what, for awhile he was. Then an injury from Nashville, and an opening and injury in Milwaukee, gave him a window to exceed expectations. He has done just that.

He has now played in twenty-two AHL games, won half of the games he has played in, has a 1.95 goals against average (GAA), 0.935 save percentage (SV%), and a remarkable five shutouts from eighteen starts. This is coming from a goalie that, up until this season, only played in one AHL game.

We’ve covered the story of Scott Darling previously here on the Roundtable. It’s a good one. It is something that reminds you that (A) this is a goalie that was drafted by the Phoenix Coyotes in 2007 (B) the Admirals were the first team in which he ever experienced in-season goalie coach (C) he is always prepared for his surroundings to change and to roll with those punches.

Perhaps that explains his ability to sit out, step in, and produce.

Last night’s thirty-six save shutout was his first game in net since March 23rd. The team lost a shootout in Utica that night. The space between starts? Ten days. Three games. He was called up from the Cincinnati Cyclones of the ECHL on October 24, 2013. His first start occurred fifteen days and four games later. His second start with the Admirals happened eight days and three games later. It was in that game that he shutout the Iowa Wild for his first shutout and win in the AHL.

He is driven to compete. A door opened for him to make a splash at the AHL level. He’s taken it whenever he is finally presented the chance to play.

So, why not him? Let’s get cold and very blunt again.

Magnus Hellberg
Nashville Predators, 2011 NHL Draft, 2nd Round (38th Overall)

Marek Mazanec
Nashville Predators, 2012 NHL Draft, 6th Round (179th Overall)

Painfully, I could almost leave that information up there and it should speak for itself. Hellberg’s slow start and subsequent injury gave the fast track to us seeing Marek Mazanec play in more games than he has ever played in any single season prior to his first in North America.

Mazanec’s previous career high for games played in a season came with Plzeň of the Czech Extraliga in 2012-13 where he appeared in twenty-one games. This season, combined between the Predators and Admirals, he has played in fifty-two games.

While the massive work load given to Mazanec this season might be staggering – he has also shown to the Predators that he is capable or handling himself at the NHL level. With Pekka Rinne‘s injury causing a scramble in net early in the season – Maznec appeared in twenty-five games, won eight games, had a 2.80 GAA, 0.902 SV%, and earned two shutouts. He was recognized by the NHL as the Rookie of the Month in November.

As if being drafted by them in 2012 wasn’t enough he has earned his place firmly on Nashville’s radar. They want him to play games and continue to sharpen his rough edges, to settle into the North American game, and put the coaching staff’s instructions immediately to use in game situations.

And that is the biggest problem when it comes to Darling not playing more than he probably should despite the better statistical numbers. By the start of next season, Mazanec will have a weight of Nashville and Milwaukee instructed knowledge in mind and put to use – and Darling will probably be in a different organization all together.

Now, here is why I think absolutely none of that matters as it pertains to the here and now.

There are eight-games remaining in the Admirals season. The schedule ahead of them sees the following play out: two-in-two, …a Tuesday game, three-in-three, and two-in-two. How the team distributes the net in those back-to-backs will be telling as to who gets the starts in the playoffs. It’s crunch time. And it is time to give the important minutes of the season to the players who’ve done the best with the time they’ve been given. In goal, that man is not Mazanec – it is Darling.

This time last season we were on the Hellberg train plowing through the final games of the season. He started every game of a three-in-three on the last weekend of the season with the eighth seed for the Western Conference on the line. He won them all – and had back-to-back shutouts to end the season.

Where are we in the present for confidence in net the likes of Hellberg last season? Darling.

In Hellberg’s month of April last season he had a 1.81 GAA in ten games. Mazanec’s month of March heading into this time of the season, 2.87 GAA. Darling, in minimal work – seven games since February, has had a sub-2.00 GAA for every month since February: 1.67 (Feb.) … 1.95 (Mar.) … 0.00 (Apr.).

Alright, so that last 0.00 GAA comes from his shutout last night -but- is that not the start of bigger and better things? Shouldn’t the numbers and performances that back them up ascend “in the pipeline” talent? We could be set to find out when the Admirals play on Friday night against the Iowa Wild. Just as equally telling – will the man that starts on Friday start the following night against the Chicago Wolves? The watch for the would-be playoff starter in net for the Admirals is officially on.

7 thoughts on “In Darling We Should Trust”

  1. I would think that Nashville should look at the big picture here, is Mazanec a potential NHL goalie? Absolutely, is Scott Darling? Who knows, but he gives the Admirals a better chance to go on a playoff run RIGHT now and that run would benefit all of the Preds prospects rather than worry about just Mazanec. He is definitely a good goalie but he has let in some soft goals lately and that can’t happen come the playoffs. On a completely separate note I see the Admirals signed and then released Veilleux, any word on what happened.

  2. Funny how this situation sort of mirrors where Milwaukee was during the franchise’s championship season. 10 years ago Milwaukee had two great options in goal, Brian Finley (then one of the team’s most important prospects) and an aging journeyman in Wade Flaherty, who still had plenty of game left. Finley got the majority of the starts during the season, but Flaherty got hot in the playoffs and the Admirals rode that streak to the Calder Cup.

    With every win down here, Milwaukee’s playoff position gets more and more stable. Let’s all be honest with each other, that last home ice position in the West just isn’t going to happen for the Admirals with the three point games in play (Chicago is eight points ahead with eight games left + Abbotsford is still ahead of Milwaukee), though Milwaukee does still have three games with the Wolves on the schedule. So as long as Milwaukee makes the playoffs, which would require a pretty monumental collapse at this point to not happen, it really doesn’t matter where the Admirals slot. I would prefer Milwaukee not to matchup with Grand Rapids initially, but I’m sure Milwaukee would take its chances with Texas, the Griffins, Toronto, Chicago or Abbotsford in a first round playoff series.

    The April schedule works out perfectly to split some starts here. Two back-to-backs, and a three-in-three on tap. Cincinnati is in good playoff position in the ECHL, meaning for now Magnus Hellberg should get some playoff starts there rather than ride the bench with the Admirals/Predators. In Milwaukee at the present time it’s Marek Mazanec vs. Scott Darling. My guess is a somewhat even split right now, but if Maz picks up his game it’s going to his net at least to start the playoffs on a short leash. Darling is a great number two option for coach Dean Evason, but if he keeps playing like this, it might be him instead to start the playoffs on short leash.

    Also remember that Nashville’s situation plays into this. The Predators could potentially pull Mazanec or Hellberg up for a game or two with Nashville at the end of the season to spell Rinne in what could be meaningless games. Carter Hutton isn’t likely in the extended plans of Nashville and therefore might be the odd man out of the net. Rinne will likely get some starts as he continues to try to work himself back up to full strength, but once there is no playoff chance, he might rest some more to get ready for 2014-2015.

    No matter what, it will be interesting to watch it play out. But after another great performance last night, it’s getting harder and harder to keep Scott Darling off the lineup card, even if there isn’t major organizational plans for him at this point. Darling should be a hot commodity next season in the minor leagues.

  3. Admiral’s add two defensemen – Jonathan Diaby #3 and Kirill Gotovets #23 , also send Paul Crowder to ECHL Cincinnati.

  4. Diaby will be eligible to be here next year. He will be 20 years old. Same with Brendan Leipsic. He will be 20 in May. That will be an exciting pair to watch develop. Both play a pretty physical style of hockey. Leipsic can hit the twine with some regularity also so it should be fun. More excited for next year than the playoffs this year.

  5. Well written article on Scott Darling! He is AMAZING and deserves more time in the net for sure. I hope he gets to the NHL level soon! Love watching him in action!

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