Panthers’ Bobrovsky has been even better than the numbers suggest this season. Here’s why

·4 min read
Daniel A. Varela/dvarela@miamiherald.com

Sergei Bobrovsky will not be judged on what he has done in the first half of the season. He won’t be judged on what he does in the second half, either. Given the way Bobrovsky’s first two seasons went with the Florida Panthers, the 2022 Stanley Cup playoffs are all that matters for the star goaltender.

With all that out of the way, Bobrovsky’s third season with the Panthers has been different. His statistics are vastly improved. The outright debacles have been nearly nonexistent. He even had his first shutout since 2019 on Thursday, making 40 saves against the Edmonton Oilers for legitimately the second-best regular-season performance of his career. There’s a real case to be made that Bobrovsky should have gotten real consideration for the 2022 NHL All-Star Game because there have not been many — if any — goalies more valuable than the oft-maligned 33-year-old this season.

“He’s been a horse for us,” interim coach Andrew Brunette said.

It starts with the raw numbers. His start Tuesday against the Winnipeg Jets is his 30th appearance of the season, making him one of only 10 goalies in the NHL this season to play in 30 games. He entered Tuesday with the 10th most shots faced in the league, the ninth most saves, the eighth best save percentage and the 10th best goals against average.

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All those numbers paint an obvious picture: Bobrovsky — who, thus far, has not lived up to the seven-year, $70 million contract he signed with Florida in 2019 — has been one of the 10 best goaltenders in the league this season and he’s doing it for arguably the NHL’s best team. Considering backup goaltender Spencer Knight is one of only 10 qualifying players with a save percentage worse than .900 and ranks in the bottom 10 in goals against average, Bobrovsky — and the workload he has taken on — has been massively important to help the Panthers keep pace with the Tampa Bay Lightning atop the Atlantic Division.

“Our goalie’s been a major part of our season,” center Eetu Luostarinen said.

Even those numbers don’t quite explain how good Bobrovsky has been this year, though. Entering Tuesday, Bobrovsky ranked second in the league in goals saved above expected, third in goals saved above expected per 60 minutes and third in save percentage above expected. With the seventh best save percentage in the NHL against high-danger attempts, Bobrovsky has given Florida exactly what it needs as a last line of defense.

Bobrovsky has always been a complex figure to judge. When he’s good, there’s no one better — it’s why he has two Vezina Trophies — because of his penchant for making highlight-reel saves. Of course, he has always been prone to allowing the inexplicable goal in between those spectacular saves, which leaves him prone to inconsistency.

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This year, he also ranks seventh in save percentage against low-danger chances. Those mistakes are mostly gone and the spectacular is really what Florida needs most.

In 5-on-5 action, the Panthers allow 12.7 high-danger chances per 60 minutes — the 10th most in the league, entering Tuesday — yet they’ve given up the seven fewest high-danger goals, per 60 minutes.

Florida knows it’s going to give up a lot of high-danger chances. It’s the trade-off that comes with letting defensemen be such a big part of the offense, but the philosophy needs a good goaltender in order to work.

Right now, Bobrovsky is making it possible.

“He’s looked quiet, he’s looked big, and he gets on rolls and momentum,” Brunette said. “Ge wants to play and it helps his game kind of get better when he gets on them.”

Patric Hornqvist skates in Winnipeg

Patric Hornqvist remains “day-to-day” with an upper-body injury Brunette said, but the right wing skated for the second time in three days ahead of the Panthers’ game Tuesday in Winnipeg.

The 35-year-old forward is getting closer to a return.

“We’ll kind of know more as we go here,” Brunette said.

Hornqvist hasn’t played since the first game of the road trip last Tuesday against the Calgary Flames, exiting in the second period of Florida’s blowout loss in Calgary after getting hit by Flames forward Brad Richardson. On Sunday in Seattle, he skated for the first time since the injury ahead of the Panthers’ game against the Seattle Kraken, so he’s progressing nicely. In the meantime, right wing Owen Tippett has taken Hornqvist’s place in the lineup.

Florida also continues to shuffle the fringes of its roster. Maxim Mamin replaced fellow winger Frank Vatrano in the lineup Tuesday — they each played twice during the first four games of the road trip — and Chase Priskie is the latest to get a shot on the third defensive pairing, replacing fellow defenseman Matt Kiersted in the lineup after he played in the last three games.

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