RALEIGH — The Carolina Hurricanes are happy to be riding the calm wave that is goaltender Curtis McElhinney. Or, to combine a tweet of mine with one from a reader, Greg Ruff:
— Greg Ruff (@RedbeardRuff) November 28, 2018
Much is already being made of the stabilizing, veteran presence McElhinney brings to the Hurricanes. When you’re on the seventh NHL team and, including AHL stints, 11th city of your pro career, it’s probably hard to get rattled.
“That’s kind of been my whole career, for the most part, especially in the NHL,” the 35-year-old goalie said following the first victory of what is now a personal four-game winning streak. “I’m used to it. It does have its challenges, but it’s one of those things I’ve grown to become accustomed to over the years. So it feels pretty natural nowadays.”
How good, exactly, has McElhinney been during this run?
During his four wins, which started against the Devils and continued with home victories over Toronto and Florida followed by Tuesday’s standout performance in Montreal, McElhinney has stopped 145 of 150 shots — making 30 or more saves in each effort.
Since the team moved from Hartford, a four-game run like this last happened — well, it hasn’t.
A cruise through Hurricanes’ goaltending statistics of the past — keep your hands and feet inside the boat, please — goes something like this: Arturs Irbe, Cam Ward, and then all these other guys.
For our purposes, let’s stick with the team since it returned from the 2004-05 lockout and the NHL rid itself of ties that made winning four in a row pretty tough. (Case in point, Irbe did it just once in Carolina, late in the 2000-01 season)
Ward — who’s tenure in Raleigh ended this past offseason when Carolina opted to move on, signing Petr Mrazek while Ward joined the Blackhawks — certainly had his hot streaks in the Carolina net.
By my count — with the help of hockey-reference.com — Ward had personal winning streaks of four or more games 13 times during his Hurricanes career.
That includes his seven-game streak in the 2006 Stanley Cup Playoffs (he didn’t allow more than two goals in any one outing) and also his nine-game run at the end of the 2008-09 season.
Those are both more significant hot streaks seeing that each contributed to playoff seasons (the only two of Ward’s career) than McElhinney’s current four-game run, though the October waiver claim hasn’t sent his final draft to press just yet.
But as far as four consecutive wins, no one has had the kind of stretch McElhinney has put together.
First off, I came up with only one other instance of a Carolina goalie in the previous 13 years having four straight decisions with 30 or more saves. McElhinney has stopped 33, 30, 34 and 48 shots in those outings, good for a .967 save percentage, while Ward did it during a win streak in the 2005-06 regular season — though he allowed three goals in two of those starts.
Ward’s best four-game stretch is probably from Jan. 24-30, 2010, when he stopped 129 of 134 shots — including 37- and 39-save efforts — for a .962 save percentage.
Ward’s partner in 2005-06, Martin Gerber, had four winning streaks that were four games or more, but the high-scoring (and penalty-filled) style that came out of the lockout didn’t allow for many low-scoring games. Gerber’s best stretch was probably the quartet of games that capped his early-season seven-game winning streak — he had two shutouts and two games in which he allowed three goals.
The parade of Ward backups had little success. John Grahame topped out at two wins in a row. Michael Leighton, in two stints, never got this hot — though it’s worth mentioning that he won his first four starts with Philadelphia in 2010 after the Flyers claimed him off waivers from Carolina, and he nearly won them a Stanley Cup.
Manny Legace strung together five wins late in the 2009-10 campaign, but he didn’t have more than 29 saves during that stretch. Brian Boucher and Dan Ellis only totaled seven combined wins in their Hurricanes careers.
Justin Peters? It never all came together for him.
Anton Khudobin — the goalie who had the most success in tandem with Ward — had two four-win runs and a six-game streak (with one relief appearance in the middle that was a team loss) in his two seasons in Carolina. But no four-game segment measures up to McElhinney’s performance.
The best Eddie Lack did was a four-game winning streak shortly after Bill Peters’ “make a (expletive deleted) save” outburst near the end of the 2016-17 season. Lack allowed five total goals in four wins and had a .954 save percentage.
Neither Scott Darling — still looking for consecutive wins in a Hurricanes sweater — nor Mrazek have strung together starts as McElhinney has.
McElhinney himself has just two other four-game win streaks in his career: a three-plus week stretch last season with Toronto starting in mid-January when he won four games while allowing a total of four goals on 109 shots (.965); and four games in March 2010 with Anaheim when he stopped 104 of 110 shots (.945) in wins (in the first, he came on in relief of Jonas Hiller early in the second period and the Ducks rallied for an overtime win).
McElhinney has started his Hurricanes career with three consecutive wins and is now 7-2-0 with a 2.12 goals-against average and .930 save percentage.
Those numbers are markedly better than McElhinney’s career numbers — in 195 games, he’s below .500 in win-loss percentage and has a 2.82 goals-against average and .910 save percentage.
McElhinney has also been helped along by an improved penalty kill — one that let down Mrazek, in particular, earlier this season — that is 11 for 11 during the streak.
As the fancy stats folks will say, McElhinney’s current performance isn’t sustainable over the long haul.
But it doesn’t have to be. Yes, the Hurricanes have longed for a sustained standout performance from a No. 1 goalie. However, most nights Carolina is just looking for a goaltender who can keep them in a game, make the routine saves and the occasional show-stopper, and not leave the team in front of him wondering when the bottom is going to fall out.
McElhinney is far from a long-term answer, but in a “what have you done for me lately?” league, it’s hard to find a Hurricanes player making a bigger difference right now.
If he can’t maintain this pace, so be it. If he can somehow stay close to it? The next stat that will be in the past is Carolina’s nine-season playoff drought.