First season with Carolina not what Darling hoped for
One day after signing a four-year, $16.6 million contract with the Carolina Hurricanes last May, Scott Darling beamed with confidence during a conference call with reporters.
He was so excited for the opportunity to become a starting goalie. So pumped to lead a struggling franchise to the Stanley Cup playoffs. So ready to author a successful new chapter to his career.
"I'm going to do everything in my power to learn how to be the best starter I can be," Darling said.
Unfortunately, things haven't exactly gone as planned.
Darling, who will start against the Chicago Blackhawks on Thursday at the United Center, has lost his starting job to 34-year-old veteran Cam Ward. Darling sports an unsightly .889 save percentage -- the worst in the league among qualifying goalies -- has a 3.09 goals-against average and is just 10-16-7 in 35 games (32 starts).
"It hasn't been ideal," he said after Carolina's practice Wednesday at the MB Ice Arena. "In the second half I've played a lot better. Still maybe not getting the results I want in terms of wins and losses. …
"It's just one of those years when things don't go your way, and that happens. Just going to try to stay positive and keep working hard and keep doing the right things.
"Eventually it will turn around."
Carolina certainly hopes so because Darling is signed for three more seasons.
So what has gone wrong? It could be a combination of factors:
• The first thing everyone points to is that making the transition from backup to starter is never easy. In Darling's case, though, he had the net in Chicago for extended periods of time the last two seasons when Corey Crawford was out due to injury.
"I don't think that's it," Darling said.
• So maybe it's changing franchises, coaches, teammates and getting used to a new city? Darling admitted that transition hasn't been easy.
"Playing (in Chicago) for three years is the longest I've ever played for one team," Darling said. "I got really comfortable and became really close with my teammates. … I just kind of had my stuff together here.
"All of a sudden you're in a new city you're not too familiar with, new teammates you don't really know. Living in an apartment.
"It's just a big life change."
• The biggest reason for Darling's struggles most likely boils down to the team in front of him. Carolina's 'D' corps is extremely young (average age of just over 23) and inexperienced (only Justin Faulk has played in more than 227 games).
So while the Hurricanes allow just 29.3 shots per game -- good for third in the league -- those who cover the team say that opponents often end up with point-blank shots that Darling and Ward have little or no chance of stopping.
"I don't like blaming the goaltender," said coach Bill Peters, whose team is 4 points behind Columbus for the second wild-card spot in the East. "It's like a plane crash. There's usually seven things that go wrong before the plane goes down.
"We've got to play better in front of both our goaltenders. … It's too much quality and a lot of it is preventable and it's out of nowhere."
Ward has started 15 of Carolina's last 21 games, but Peters isn't going to deny Darling the chance to face his former team.
Darling planned to go out to dinner with friends and family Wednesday night and expects a cheering section of about 30 at the United Center.
"I was giving Tony Ommen grief -- he couldn't cut me a deal on a suite," Darling said of the Hawks' senior director of team services.
After the starters are announced and the national anthem begins, Darling just might shed a tear or two. After all, he grew up a Hawks fan, played for them for three seasons and was a huge reason they won the 2015 Cup.
"What do you mean I'm emotional?" said a chuckling Darling, who barely held it together during his final presser as a Hawk in April at the UC. "Nah -- I'm just excited.
"It's something I've been looking forward to. Obviously it's going to be weird for me, but I feel like once the puck drops it'll be just another game."