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Hurricanes look to have found a little magic with Curtis McElhinney

·MLB Writer
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On first glance, there isn’t a lot about Curtis McElhinney that suggests he should be any NHL team’s Plan A.

He’s an 11-year veteran who’s never started more than 32 games. He’s a sixth-round pick who’s never been a top prospect. At 6-foot-2 and 203 pounds, he’s big but not remarkably so. He even looks more like a trustworthy public servant and proud golden retriever owner than last line of defence against a barrage of pucks.

Curtis McElhinney is the ultimate journeyman, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be the answer for the Carolina Hurricanes. (NBC)
Curtis McElhinney is the ultimate journeyman, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be the answer for the Carolina Hurricanes. (NBC)

Even the way McElhinney plays isn’t exactly pretty at times. He can be erratic and reactionary, rarely giving the impression of being entirely in control.

Arguably his most famous moment to date came in the dying days of the 2016-17 season when he denied Sidney Crosby at the doorstep to ensure the Toronto Maple Leafs a playoff berth — which upon closer inspection was more a matter of Crosby failing to raise the puck than an act of grand larceny.

Via NHL.tv
Via NHL.tv

Even so, there’s no diminishing what he’s doing right now. Thanks to the remarkable ineptitude of Scott Darling and Petr Mrazek, the journeyman has seized control of the starting job in Carolina and is absolutely rolling.

McElhinney has made four of the last five starts for the Hurricanes — all wins — allowing just five goals against and putting up a .967 save percentage. He was particularly brilliant on Tuesday night, stopping 48 of 49 shots against the Montreal Canadiens.

His highlight reel from the night wasn’t full of show stoppers, but it was not short on reaction saves to in-tight deflections and shots off rebounds — the kind of stuff that tends to indicate a goalie is locked in.

Early in the first he thwarted Andrew Shaw on a very dangerous redirection…

Via NHL.tv
Via NHL.tv

… and minutes later he saved Justin Faulk from a very embarrassing own goal with an alert kick stop.

Via NHL.tv
Via NHL.tv

He was clearly tracking the puck well all night long, which showed on this stop against Brendan Gallagher on a clean opportunity in the slot.

Via NHL.tv
Via NHL.tv

The business of evaluating and projecting goaltenders is an absolute minefield at the best of times, so it’s important not to overreact to one game, or a stretch of four.

However, McElhinney has quietly put together a tidy little body of work in recent seasons. Among goalies with at least 40 starts since the beginning of 2016-17, here’s what the save percentage leaderboard looks like:

Via NHL.com
Via NHL.com

Clearly, McElhinney can’t be expected to produce like these guys and his production comes in only 48 games. However, the fact he’s there at all is pretty damn impressive.

There are plenty of reasons not to believe in McElhinney ranging from his age, to the fact the eye test is rarely kind to him, to his inexperience carrying a heavy workload, to a rather lengthy track record of mediocrity.

The Hurricanes don’t need much more than mediocrity, though, considering they outshoot their opponents 39.1 to 27.6 on average. Considering how good he’s been lately — and really in the last couple of years — it’s not that crazy to think McElhinney could given them what they need.

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