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