Scott Darling Was Fine For 2015-16 Chicago Blackhawks
Our look back at the Chicago Blackhawks 2015-16 season that was rolls on with another individual player grade. Corey Crawford had his day in court Wednesday, so now it’s time to round out the full-time goaltending tandem by looking at Scott Darling‘s “sophomore season.” (Fellow goaltender Michael Leighton will be covered in a post for those who weren’t with the team very long this season.)
Darling burst on to the scene last season after Crow permitted three goals in 20 minutes to open the 2015 postseason. The Blackhawks looked listless in front of a constant Nashville Predators attack, so Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville went to Darling in hopes of shaking up the team in front of him. After another 20 minutes had gone by, the game was tied at 3. The Blackhawks would win the game in double-overtime, with Darling stopping all 42 shots he faced in nearly 68 minutes of action.
While Crow earned back the starting job by the end of that series, some Blackhawks fans wanted to see more of Darling moving forward. This became more true when fellow backup Antti Raanta was shipped to the New York Rangers in the offseason. But the opportunities to see Darling in the 2015-16 season would be few and far between until Crow suffered an injury toward the end of the regular season. And with that background, let’s get to the grading.
2015-16 regular-season stats: 24 starts, 12-8-4, 1 shutout, .915 save percentage, 2.58 goals-allowed average
2015-16 postseason stats: Did not play
He was pretty strong when he got the call at the United Center, which was more often than not. Quenneville was right not to put Darling behind a shoddy Blackhawks defense on the road when he didn’t have to, though Darling wound up with more road appearances (18) than home ones (11). (While Darling only made 24 starts, he also appeared in relief of Crow five times.)
At the Madhouse on Madison, Darling posted an adjusted save percentage of .926, which is pretty great from a guy who saw very little action. His save percentage on high-quality chances was .870, which is another pretty good statistic. He didn’t lose a game at the United Center until March, though some of that had to do with seeing limited and selective action.
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When it did come time for Darling to step in, however, he fared well enough. After seeing just 16 appearances between Oct. 10 and Feb. 21, Darling was in the net 13 times between March 3 and April 7. He picked up six wins and helped the Blackhawks to at least one point in eight of 14 appearances during that stretch. He also posted a save percentage of .920 or better in six of the 14 games.
Additionally, Darling brought up his powerplay save percentage from .818 last regular season to .875 this year, and he improved his shorthanded save percentage from .897 to .917. These are all good things to see from a guy who got sporadic work the majority of the season. He also looked a lot more confident in net once he got a nice string of games under his belt.
Like Crow with his injury, one of the “negatives” associated with Darling was out of his control. He just didn’t get a lot of run, as the Blackhawks were leaning heavily on Crow throughout the season due to a porous defense and poor puck possession. As a result, Darling had just three starts in October and February, four in both November and January and a whopping two in December.
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I somehow managed to see one of the December starts in person (in Denver on New Year’s Eve).
And so, Darling looked rusty, uncomfortable and unconfident many times before his extended run in March. He was very swimmy in his crease and often lost his net without much pressure. Combined with the number of shots he’d often see, which was a higher number than he would’ve seen in the 2014-15 regular season, and things were bound to be rough. He posted a save percentage worse than .920 in 15 of his 29 appearances, and worse than .900 in 10 of those 15.
His positioning needs work, and with a big body like Darling has, if he can just get settled into his crease, things could become a lot more positive for him. Sure, more consistent in-game work would also help, but Darling knows his role, and he knows it isn’t changing. It’s up to him to adapt.
Darling’s road struggles were also well-documented, as his adjusted save percentage was just below .910 away from the UC. That .870 mark on high-quality chances while at home tumbled to .812 on the road. And overall (home and road), while Darling’s powerplay and shorthanded save percentages climbed this season, his even-strength mark slipped badly, from .947 to .916.
Yes, some of this is a product of the team in front of him (the Blackhawks struggled badly at even-strength throughout the regular season), so it’s tough to put all of these stats squarely on Darling’s back. But there’s no doubt he could improve, and there’s also no doubt he isn’t about to supplant Crow as the starter.
C+. Given what he had to work with and around this season, as well as his sketchy workload through a majority of the season, I’m not sure you can give Darling a worse grade than this. He generally did what a backup is supposed to do, and that’s give his team a shot at winning while the starter gets a night off. He was rarely amazing, but he performed admirably down the stretch while Crow was sidelined.
Previous Blackhawks Grades