Florida Panthers Are Off To A Hot Start, But One Big Question Remains!

The Florida Panthers have had one of the best starts in the 27-year history of the franchise. Yes, they laid an egg against the second-worst team in the league in the Detroit Red Wings(worst is Ottawa). Still, we have to be encouraged by the start that this Florida Panthers team has had. The team is tied for second in the division in points percentage with the Carolina Hurricanes, who are also playing a game of catch-up after their COVID outbreak.

We’ve seen Aleksander Barkov probably up to the best start of his NHL career this year. We’ve seen what a great addition Carter Verhaeghe has been so far with him after being unable to crack the Tampa Bay lineup last year. We’ve seen Anthony Duclair show his speed on the ice on odd-man rushes, and picking up 6 assists. We’ve seen the aggressiveness on the defense by Radko Gudas, Aaron Ekblad, Mackenzie Weegar, and now Noah Juulsen(whose performance so far, I have been impressed with). However, one question remains: What do we do about the goaltending going forward?

Sure, Chris Driedger didn’t have his best game this past Sunday against the Detroit Red Wings. Detroit played a clean hockey game(with the exception of the Smith hit on Weegar), and stayed mostly penalty-free. Florida has shown early on that they are average at even strength as they are only +1 goal differential even strength. With a PP unit being 6th in conversion rate, Detroit’s discipline on Sunday to not be down a man, along with the heroics by Thomas Griess are how they were able to beat Florida. Let’s compare the two goalies:

Sergei Bobrovsky: 3-0-1, 3.57 GAA, .811 SV%.

Chris Driedger: 3-1-1, 1.97 GAA, .937 SV%

All 3 of Sergei Bobrovsky’s wins, have come in overtime or later. All of Chris Driedger’s wins have happened in regulation. I think the W-L stat doesn’t tell the whole story as Bobrovsky is keeping opposing teams in games, while Driedger is simply shutting the door. The GAA is about a 1.5 goal difference while playing with the same lineup. It’s not only the fact that Driedger doesn’t have as many rebounds after a shot attempt as Bob has, but it’s also about the confidence of the team when Driedger is out there vs. Bob. Sure, on Sunday, Driedger was way out of his crease and a rebound caused Detroit to score their 3rd goal of the game, but that is something we really do not see often with him. Driedger has had two starts in a row, he was not with the first group at practice on Monday, so expect Sergei Bobrovsky, the $10M/year goalie to get back out there after not playing since Florida’s 6-5 loss against Nashville.

Speaking of Bob, although I think Florida should have gone home with a win after a failed challenge by Joel Quenneville(which caused Nashville to go 6-on-4 with the new rule for challenges) ended up forcing overtime, which Florida ended up losing. However, there needs to be a time when you have to take games away from the other team. Yes, I am aware that Alex Wennberg had a god awful turnover in overtime, I know Matt Duchene was camping around the goal on the 6-on-4 at the end of regulation, but there was a save on the first attempt, got a save on the second attempt, but then Duchene converts on the third. Two pad saves that Bob was unable to kick away to force a clear. Looked at the replay again, and maybe there was a bit of miscommunication between Bob and Weegar, but there’s got to be a way to come up with some type of steal to clear the puck, run down the clock, and come out with the win.

It’s time to start asking that question, When Is Coach Q going to lose his patience with Sergei Bobrovsky? I do not know the answer, but it might be really soon. In this jampacked NHL season, we’re going to see goalies interchanged at a higher rate than any season, but if Florida qualifies for the playoffs, that is when that question will get even harder.

Continue to follow along on the Panther Parkway Podcast with Tom McLean every Sunday, and the Locked On Panthers Podcast with myself Monday-Friday for more news, insights, and analysis on your Florida Panthers.  You can also follow our writers: @FrankRekas, @Josh_LOPanthers, @JacobWinans8, @prudentia0, @Spencer_hoag, and @mandoman12. All images unless otherwise noted are courtesy of @KimSmithImages

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