Crazy to think that it’ll be in just under two weeks that the Florida Panthers will be playing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Crazy to think as well that the Panthers will have home ice advantage all throughout the Eastern Conference as well, as they sit at 118 points through 77 games. Point Pace at this point in time is 126 points while their Magic number to clinch the President’s Trophy is at 9.
We talk about all the records that the Panthers have had this season:
1) Most Wins in a Single Season In Franchise History With 48
2) Most home wins in Franchise History With 28
3) Most Points In Franchise History(previously 103)
4) Jonathan Huberdeau setting the single season mark in points for a Panthers player with 97(along with most assists ever by a Left Winger with 71)
5) Sergei Bobrovsky break a franchise record for most wins in a season by a Panthers goaltender at 36
6) Most Goals scored in the Salary Cap Era with 322(with 5 games to go, mind you)
7) Currently tied for the longest winning streak in franchise history at 12
That’s just to name a few. Though the Panthers are in prime position to make a long run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs this year, at times they seem unstoppable. There are also signs of vulnerability, just like any Stanley Cup Contender. For the Panthers, it’s still goaltending.
Yes, Sergei Bobrovsky has had a bounce back season with a 2.64 GAA and .913 save % with 3 shutouts, but there are still at times those goals that are given up by Bobrovsky that raise eyebrows. However, the number this year are really close to his numbers to where he was in his final year in Columbus. We know how that ended, a 1st round sweep against the Tampa Bay Lightning, which earned him the $10M per year contract. When the Panthers returned to action from the Olympic break on February 16th, the team had a great 3-game stretch. In that stretch, they were able to have solid road wins in not-so-easy environments like Carolina, and Minnesota, and Chicago. The box score will show that Sergei Bobrovsky only gave up 2 goals in each of those 3 games. 3 wins, awesome, everything is great, the Panthers at that time were starting to take off on the road. However, there were some head scratching goals given up by Bobrovsky during that stretch, the one’s by Teuvo Teravainen of Carolina and Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks are the ones that stuck out. Good news though, those two goals happen to be the first one’s by their opposition of each of those games, so Bobrovsky and the team were able to quickly buckle things down after. Even this past Thursday against Detroit at home, the first goal against Sam Gagner, was a head scratching one.
I will give Bob this, at times when he has given up not just one, but multiple goals in period one, he has been better once the second period starts. Most recently, the game against the Buffalo Sabres on April 8th, gives up 3 goals in the first(not all were his fault), and then the team does not allow one the rest of the way and the Panthers commit their 5th comeback of 3 or more goals. They also gave up only 10 SOG to the Sabres in the final 2 periods.
Spencer Knight has had his fair share of brilliance this season when coming in relief for Bobrovsky, but has even shown signs of vulnerability when he has come in.
11/4 vs. Washington: Panthers have a 2-0 lead, Sergei Bobrovsky exits with an Upper Body Injury and is out a week. Washington catches up to tie it at 4 to gets it to overtime, but the Panthers find a way to win thanks to Eetu Luostarinen getting the GWG to beat Washington 5-4.
11/26 at Washington: What looked to be a concussion spotter/equipment issue after Tom Wilson scores a short handed goal on Bobrovsky(Panthers chose a bad time to make a shift change as well if you look at the replay). Though Bobrovsky does not come out of the game immediately he does give up a power play goal to Alex Ovechkin, then Spencer Knight comes in. Not even a minute later with Spencer Knight being in, the Panthers give up another one to Ovi, though I think that Spencer could’ve stopped it, I don’t want to put too much blame on him with Spencer not expecting to play that night and having to come in for an injury situation. That was a game of both goalies entering the game back-and-forth with the medical staff checking to see if Bobrovsky was okay enough to play the rest of the way. Bob was able to finish the game but the Panthers 3-1 deficit on Black Friday on the road was too big of a hole to come back from, despite getting it to a 1-goal deficit just 5-minutes into the 3rd period, Washington ended up winning 4-3 in regulation.
12/2 vs. Buffalo: Sergei Bobrovsky goes 8-12(all even strength goals and 2 goals given up to former Panther Vinnie Hinostroza), the straw that broke the Camels back in that game was when Casey Middlestadt got one through the 5-hole to make it 4-1. Spencer Knight comes in and goes 19-19 and the Panthers score 6 unanswered, led by Jonathan Huberdeau, Sam Reinhart and Anton Lundell. Their second 3-goal comeback of the Week. Sergei Bobrovsky did however stay in their game earlier that week against Washington on 11/30 where the Panthers were down by as much as 4-1 as well. They used a 27-2 SOG advantage in the 3rd period to score 4 unanswered including the GWG by Sam Reinhart with 0:15 second left in the 3rd on the Power Play.
4/2 at New Jersey: the first of the 4-goal comebacks in a week span. Bobrovsky plays the first two periods in full but goes 19/25 through 40 minutes. Many thought that Bob was going to stay in with the Cats having a back-to-back the next day in Buffalo, but Andrew Brunette wanted to create a spark putting Knight in. The Panthers were able to help Spencer out with a 23-5 SOG differential in the 3rd, resulting in 4 goals to tie the game at 6, then Gustav Forsling finishing the job in overtime to complete the comeback.
4/5 vs. Toronto: Bobrovsky goes 10/14 and is pulled even earlier in the game after giving up 3 quick goals to start the 2nd period to make it 4-1 at the time against Division Rival and Stanley Cup Contender Toronto Maple Leafs. Many(including myself) thought that there was no way the Panthers could do this again, only for them to do it again. Spencer comes in relief and the Cats once again out-possess Toronto the rest of the way, helping their young goaltender in mount to a comeback, which Jonathan Huberdeau ended it in overtime.
Bobrovsky has been really shaky at time, and has had to be pulled due to performance 3 times this season. It’s lower than other years, which is encouraging. Though I will say, the Panthers have been fortunate to score at will the way they do so that even if they give up a few. Both of their goalies are in great position. After all, they are first in the NHL in goals for per game at 4.18, and their Power Play Percentage is at 24.2%, which is 6th in the NHL after being as low as 24th at the end of December.
Bobrovsky has played 51 games(all starts) and has not had to come in relief of Spencer Knight this season. That however does not mean that there weren’t performances in which Knight should not have been pulled. Let’s put a little bit of context in some of the performances and some storyline at the time that Spencer has not looked his best.
Before I list the times where I thought Spencer could’ve been pulled, this is not to crap or insult Spencer Knight’s play. He has been fantastic in stretches, but to understand that these are growing pains that the young goaltender has had and when I thought the coaching could have protected the young man between the pipes. I will say though, credit to the coaching staff implementing the appropriate splits between Bobrovsky and Spencer Knight when it comes to the two goaltenders. Spencer has started 30 of the 77 games with a 2.77 GAA and a .909 SV%.
So here are the situations where Spencer could’ve been pulled, but was not:
1) 11/9 at New York Rangers: With Bobrovsky’s injury the week before against Washington, he was not placed on Injured Reserve. At the time, G Christopher Gibson was brought up to the Panthers roster on emergency loan. At the time, he was not having his best season in AHL Charlotte, and has had an injury riddled season as well, only playing 13 games. Signs said that no matter what was happening, Spencer was likely not going to get pulled. Panthers gave up one of many goals that Chris Kreider has scored this season on the Power Play which Spencer gave up a rebound, and 3 goals given up on the rush to NYR, including a shorty to Norris Trophy winner Adam Fox, K’andre Miller and Ryan Strome on a turnover. That was also a game where the Panthers outshot NYR 45-18. So the Cats shot themselves in the foot.The season series against NYR has been strange where even though NYR has won the season series, in the first two games, the Panthers scored 6 3rd period goals against the likely Vezina Trophy winner in Igor Shesterkin. The 3 goals on 11/9 was too little too late, the other on 11/29 was via a comeback to win at home on 11/29.
2) 11/10 at New Jersey: Spencer Starting a back-to-back, and the wheels really fell off, giving up 6 goals on 30 shots. All around sluggish play from the Panthers on the second end of a back-to-back and their young goaltender with a tall task to try to bounce back. This was a game at one point that the Panthers were leading 3-2. Defensive breakdowns where Spencer had to creep up on his crease, deflected pucks, not great rebound control by Spencer, all around bad night for the squad. Again, don’t think the Panthers ever considered bringing in Christopher Gibson at time. Though this is sometimes necessary for a young goaltender to go though. he did have a bounce back game against these same New Jersey Devils a week later at FLA LIVE Arena going 45/46 in a 4-1 win. As well as coming in relief of Bobrovsky on 4/2 to complete a 4-goal comeback in the 3rd to defeat the Devils.
3) 12/14 vs. Ottawa. By far the worst game of the season by the Panthers overall. Context, that was the start of everybody going down with COVID-19. Ryan Lomberg was the first guy to go down, but even though the other players on the team were not placed on the COVID List until their game later that week against the LA Kings, there is a chance that the team was sluggish due to many players not testing positive just yet, but felling the symptoms of COVID, we’ll never know. Spencer went 30/38, and it was a game that at one point was tied at 2 before the wheels fell off. There were also rumors about Bobrovsky possibly being hurt so Bruno did not want to put him in.
This prompted the Panthers to claim Jonas Johansson off of waivers from the Colorado Avalanche on December 13th. Lets not forget that with COVID and a possible injury to Bobrovsky, Johansson was scheduled to start a road game against Minnesota in December, but not before the league decided to shut down due to the spread of the Omicron variant of COVID-19. Thankfully, with Spencer Knight being on his Entry-Level Contract, the Panthers could afford to send him down to AHL Charlotte to clean up his game a little. Though his first game was rough down in Charlotte giving up 5 goals against Bridgeport, Spencer Knight has bounced back on more than one occasion. Getting 2 shutouts in 11 starts and gave up 2 or less goals in 6 of those 11 starts. Went 7-4-0 with a 2.95 GAA and a .905 SV%. Spencer did get pulled once in a road game against Providence after giving up 4 goals in almost 30 minutes of ice time.
Spencer has at times been the back stop that the Panthers wanted him to be bouncing back going 27/28 in a 2-1 shootout win over the Vancouver Canucks on the road. The ups-and-downs throughout AHL Charlotte and the NHL level, we’ve seen great maturity since. Spencer Knight had a tall task on the last West Coast Trip of the Season. Spencer has not gone back to the AHL since being back in the lineup on 3/12. Though he lost in the shootout against Jonathan Quick and the Los Angeles Kings, with Bobrovsky taking a puck to the face while sitting on the bench, Spencer started the rest of the road trip up until their first road game post trade deadline against Montreal. In that stretch, Panthers got 7 of a possible 10 points before Sergei Bobrovsky returned against Ottawa, and that includes his first career shutout against the Anaheim Ducks stopping all 17 of his shots. The Panthers also protected their young goaltender doing what they do best, controlling possession. Sergei Bobrovsky also got 3rd Star of the Month in March, going 7-0-0 with a .924 save percentage and a GAA of 2.13 and 2 shutouts, while missing 16 days in between, incredible.
Since coming back to the NHL and never being sent back down on March 12th, Spencer Knight is 8-2-1 with a 2.20 GAA and a .922 Save %, and this dude just turned 21 years old.
Writing this and looking at the ups and downs of the season Florida Panthers’, the goalie situation is in a better hands that we had anticipated. They have given up 9 goals in the last 6 games(1.5 goals against per game). You’re gonna win a lot of games when your defense is getting bodies in front, not allowing deflections to go into your own net net, and more importantly, the goalies getting the job done.
This has been consistent from me the last few weeks and it will until I believe there is a reason to make a change, but if game 1 were tomorrow, Sergei Bobrovsky is the starter.
Question is, how long is his leash?
My answer is, it’s longer than it was last year. Again, Sergei Bobrovsky’s performance is getting to the point to his last year in Columbus. Sure the playoff numbers are not where he wants them to be, but with the ability that the Panthers have to score, even if the Panthers go up 4-0 early and the team gives up 3 quick ones, Andrew Brunette in my opinion is not going to panic and he is going to trust the $10M man. The question is, when the Panthers give up 3 early goals and the offense is in need of a spark, when do you make the move? If Spencer comes in and completes a comeback, likely his crease the next game. If Spencer gives up 3 more after coming in, Bobrovsky will likely be back the next game. I could be wrong, but I don’t think it’s as quick as just 2 games that Sergei Bobrovsky would be benched like last year. It helps that the Panthers are the number one overall seed in the East, they can score on the other end, and their likely first round opponent in Washington does not have the overall depth this year that last years Tampa Bay Lightning had(but also the Panthers just could not stay out of the penalty box last year, which is what ultimately killed them), so I am expecting a better playoff series this year from Bobrovsky and the team around him, even with having possibly the best goal scorer of all time in Alex Ovechkin on the other side.
It’s all situational, I think we are all aware of that, and like we’ve spoken about many times on Locked On Panthers, we don’t want this revolving door of goalies during the playoffs, even if you are confident in the two you have. It happened in 2021, and it also happened in the 2012 postseason as well. It also depends where the Panthers are in the series, are they leading it 3-1 or 3-0 and Bobrovsky has one bad game and you only need one more in order to advance to the next round? Or is it a bad performance that the opposition ties up the series? If it’s the latter, now you have an even bigger decision on your hands if you’re Andrew Brunette. As the playoffs go along, we are gonna look at the different situations, but really this would be only a conversation if the Panthers happen to lose. Winning solves everything and this conversation could be useless after all, so we will revisit this later in the postseason. Remember that the Stanley Cup Playoffs is a big mental grind for the players, the coaching staff, and even us fans. So throughout the dance, this franchise will be in different states as we go along, let’s hope that they are more positive ones than negative.
Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this article, let us know in the comments! Let us know what you think of the goalie situation. We’d love to discuss in the comments, and tweet @PantherParkway and @LO_FLAPanthers on Twitter!