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Where Sergei Bobrovsky stands, and the Panthers’ readiness to ‘play real games’ again

Jordan McPherson
·4 min read

Some notables from the Florida Panthers’ last couple days of practice, which included a simulated scrimmage on Saturday.

About the goaltending...

It’s clear that Sergei Bobrovsky, the Panthers’ $70 million man in net, is still shaking off some rust. He missed the Panthers’ first eight practices of training camp and he gave up four goals in an overtime win over the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday in his first live action.

He was shaky at times again during the Panthers’ scrimmage on Saturday. He gave up a pair of goals at five-on-five strength to defenseman Aaron Ekblad and Carter Verhaeghe within a three-minute span and surrendered two more during the five-minute, three-on-three overtime period (another goal by Verhaeghe and one by Alex Wennberg).

How much leeway will Bobrovsky have moving forward, especially if Chris Driedger can build off his success in limited action last year and prove to be a steady replacement? That picture will likely become clearer over the next few games.

Bobrovsky knows he has to improve. There’s no denying that. The former two-time Vezina Trophy award winner went 23-19-6 in 50 games (49 starts) last season, the first of his 7-year contract with Florida. His .900 save percentage ranked 46th among 54 goalies who played in at least 25 games. His 3.23 goals against average ranked 51st.

Driedger went 7-2-1 in 11 starts last year with a 2.05 goals against average and .938 save percentage. He held the Blackhawks to two goals on Opening Night.

Another point to consider: With the Panthers’ schedule getting even more condensed due to their four early postponements — right now, they are set to play 54 games over 103 days, including 14 in a 25-day stretch after this four game road trip through Columbus and Detroit — coach Joel Quenneville might already be forced to rotate his goaltenders more than he originally anticipated.

“We talked about early in camp seeing how things are going to play out and whether we are going to rotate,” Quenneville said. “I know on back-to-backs, that’s going to be an easier decision. We’ll look at, with these first few series since we haven’t played much, keeping everyone involved in a game as well. It could be part of it and Bob catching up from his missed action might be something that we could do.”

Florida Panthers head coach Joel Quenneville and assistant coach Ulf Samuelsson talk during the third period of the Florida Panthers NHL home opener game against the Chicago Blackhawks at the BB&T Center on Sunday, January 17, 2021 in Sunrise, Fl.
Florida Panthers head coach Joel Quenneville and assistant coach Ulf Samuelsson talk during the third period of the Florida Panthers NHL home opener game against the Chicago Blackhawks at the BB&T Center on Sunday, January 17, 2021 in Sunrise, Fl.

About the layoff...

Quenneville was quick to point out that the Panthers merely looked “OK” during their scrimmage at Saturday’s practice. The pace was off. The energy was lacking at points.

And, Quenneville said, that’s more or less understandable. The Panthers’ schedule was thrown off for the second time since the season started 10 days ago.

Their season-opening games against the Dallas Stars were postponed due to COVID-19 issues with the Stars. Their games on Thursday and Saturday against the Carolina Hurricanes were postponed as well due to COVID-19 issues with the Hurricanes.

Florida was supposed to be playing its sixth game of the regular season Saturday. Instead, the Panthers have played two games that count toward the standings (both wins over the Blackhawks) and have held three intrasquad scrimmages.

“I think you could tell they’re at a point where they want to play real games,” Quenneville said. “... This little off and on here, it is what it is. Let’s recapture some of that energy that we had in the Chicago series.”

Florida Panthers left wing Juho Lammikko #91 carries the puck against New York Rangers right wing Jesper Fast #17 and goalie Henrik Lundqvist #30 during the second period of an NHL regular season hockey game at the BB&T Center on Saturday, December 8, 2018 in Sunrise.
Florida Panthers left wing Juho Lammikko #91 carries the puck against New York Rangers right wing Jesper Fast #17 and goalie Henrik Lundqvist #30 during the second period of an NHL regular season hockey game at the BB&T Center on Saturday, December 8, 2018 in Sunrise.

About Juho Lammikko and the fourth forward line...

The Panthers finally had a complete roster available on Friday when Juho Lammikko took part in his first practice since the start of training camp and he has made an early impression on Quenneville.

“I liked his enthusiasm out there and I think he’s got good instincts,” Quenneville said Friday. “I’m looking forward to it. ... He’s got some pace to him. He’s got a long stride. He’s a big guy.”

Lammikko has played overseas for the past year and a half, first in the Liiga in Finland and then in the KHL before signing a one-year deal with the Panthers in November. It gave him the opportunity to get extended ice time.

“I felt like I needed a fresh start to get my career going again,’’ Lammikko said.

Now that he’s back with the Panthers, where will he play? Right now, the only forward spot in the Panthers’ lineup that isn’t set is the fourth line left wing alongside center Noel Acciari and right wing Brett Connolly. Ryan Lomberg was in that spot for Sunday’s season opener. Vinnie Hinostroza played there on Tuesday. Lammikko practiced at that spot Friday and started the scrimmage grouped with them as well although forward lines were fluid with each team only having eight forwards.

However, the Panthers’ 23-man roster and six-man taxi squad are also full at the moment, pointing to Lammikko potentially starting the season in the AHL unless a roster move is made.

“I think everybody’s going to get an opportunity to play at some point this season,” Quenneville said.