Scott Darling

Former Blackhawks goaltender Scott Darling to take leave of absence from Hurricanes

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USA TODAY

Former Blackhawks goaltender Scott Darling to take leave of absence from Hurricanes

Former Blackhawks goaltender Scott Darling is taking a personal leave of absence from the Carolina Hurricanes.

Don Waddell, the Hurricanes general manager, announced the move on Sunday.

Darling has played in just eight games with the Hurricanes this season, holding a 3.33 GAA and .884 save percentage. He has spent much of the season in the AHL; in 14 games with the Charlotte Checkers, Darling has a 3.40 GAA and .882 save percentage.

“Since he’s been down there he’s had some good games and some bad games,” Waddell said to the Charlotte Observer. “He had a tough game the other night and his agent called me and said he would like to take a personal leave of absence and would we allow that to get his mind back together."

Waddell told Darling to "take a week" and said that Darling's decision is not performance-based.

“No, I think it’s him trying to get his mind around it," he said. "He’s obviously has had a tough year on the ice and he needs, from a mental standpoint, needs to regroup basically.

“We all know he’s had ups and downs in his career, and we’ll be supportive. He’s still under contract for two more years and we’ve got to see if we can get this thing back together.”

Darling played for the Blackhawks from 2014-17 before being traded to the Hurricanes on April 28, 2017. He signed a four-year, $16.6 million contract with the Hurricanes a week later.

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Scott Darling victorious in return to United Center

Scott Darling victorious in return to United Center

It hasn't been the breakout year as a starter that Scott Darling was hoping for, but the former Blackhawk got a win in his old stadium on Thursday night.

Darling made 22 saves in a 3-2 Hurricanes win at the United Center. It marked Darling's first game back in Chicago after he played for the Blackhawks each of the past three seasons.

The Blackhawks honored Darling with a video during the game, although Darling said he missed some of it. Overall, Darling said he received a "warm reception" from fans and the team.

"This organization is really first class when it comes to stuff like that and welcoming players back and I really appreciate that," Darling said. "I know my family was able to see it and it was a great night."

Darling, who was traded to Carolina this offseason, was pegged to be the Hurricanes' starter, but struggled and lost the job. Darling has still made a career-high 33 starts with a chunk of the season still to play, but also has the lowest save percentage of his career. He is sitting at .890, which is well below his three years with the Blackhawks where he averaged a .923 save percentage.

Darling's first game against the Blackhawks came back on Nov. 11 in Carolina, a game which the Blackhawks won 4-3 in overtime. This time Darling got the better of his former team, although Patrick Sharp did score on him, which Darling thinks will be brought up again.

"All these guys are great friends," Darling said. "I'm sure I'm going to hear it from Sharpy for scoring on me and guys were coming by during the play and saying hi to me. It was pretty funny. It was a great group and I miss the guys a lot."

Days as Blackhawks' fill-in prepped Scott Darling for role as Hurricanes' new No. 1

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USA TODAY

Days as Blackhawks' fill-in prepped Scott Darling for role as Hurricanes' new No. 1

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Scott Darling was used to dealing with the on-ice pressure from his time with the Blackhawks. From his stellar performance against the Nashville Predators in April 2015 to taking over when Corey Crawford had appendicitis last December, Darling showed he could handle a No. 1 goaltending job someday.

But for Darling, earning that status has been as much about the right attitude as the experience.

“I don’t know if the transition to starter was that tough. It’s always something I’ve been excited about and really enjoyed when I got the opportunity in Chicago if Crow was hurt or sick or something. It’s (more) the big life change, to move (somewhere) I’ve never really been other than to play the Hurricanes,” Darling said. “So that transition, it took a little bit and I’m finally comfortable.”

Darling had a few tough games but is getting back to form lately, giving up just two goals in his last two games. And he’ll start on Saturday night when the Hurricanes host the Blackhawks at PNC Arena. As of Friday, Darling is seventh in the league with a 2.35 goals-against average, and Carolina coach Bill Peters said Darling’s transition to starter has been “fairly seamless.”

“He’s playing really well for us,” Peters said. “It’s a good combination of our goaltenders. There’s a bit of a different style among the two (Darling and Cam Ward) and the things we’ve asked Scotty to work on, he’s done an excellent job. So I think he’s really trending in the right direction.”

Darling is one of six former Blackhawks on Carolina’s roster right now and having that many familiar faces has helped him get used to the new surroundings. On the ice, the Hurricanes have either struggled to score goals or have given up leads late. It’s led to some disappointing outcomes and players say Darling’s deserved a better fate in some of those games.

“We’ve played 13 games and we’ve had a chance to win them all. They’ve been close games. We know we can always trust him and he’s been playing great for us,” Marcus Kruger said of Darling. “Hopefully we can win a few more games here for him because he really deserves that.”

Carolina forward Jeff Skinner said Darling has had a calming influence on the Hurricanes.

“He’s big and steady, big and strong back there and settles everyone down. I think obviously when you add a player of his pedigree, especially in that position, it can settle guys down,” Skinner said. “We have a lot of young guys who have played a lot of minutes and played big roles on our back end, but having him back there has definitely been a positive.”

Asked about playing that settle-down role, Darling said, “I think it’s just they’ve been through some tough years here recently, and not just myself but having all of these new guys who have a winning pedigree the last couple of years and want to win and know how to win, it’s been good for the whole team and all the young guys. It’s just knowing what to say in the locker room, not getting flustered or giving up if we get down a goal or something like that.”

Darling’s biggest transition was off the ice, getting used to a new city and a new organization. Considering the on-ice situations he faced in the hopes of eventually getting a No. 1 goaltending job, the adjustment to that has been fairly smooth.

“It’s a new organization, new people, new bosses, learning how things work here. So that’s been a transition,” Darling said. “But on the ice it’s just hockey and I feel pretty comfortable.”