They say when a goalie is in a groove he can carry a team a long way. No matter what you throw at them, the puck looks like a beach ball and has very little chance to get past a netminder who’s in a zone. The recent play of Jose Theodore in his last three starts has been nothing short of outstanding. Unfortunately he’s been rewarded with only one victory, that over the New York Islanders on Sunday February 12th in Long Island when the Florida Panthers were victorious by a score of 4-1. That would also be the last game that the Panthers would win since they began their four game homestand, as they now have lost three in a row.
With losses to Ottawa and Washington earlier in the week, and to Anaheim on Sunday, the Florida Panthers lead in the Southeast division is down to one point, and could very well evaporate by the time they take the ice again on Thursday against the Minnesota Wild. When you look at the recent inconsistency of the Panthers, it’s obvious to point the finger at one problem. Lack of scoring. The ironic part of it all is that the lack of scoring can be tied to injuries on the blue line. Coincidental? Allow a brief observation. First of all defenceman Jason Garrison who’s been out with a lower body injury, has missed the past four games. His contribution offensively on the back end has been missed not only at even strength, but also on the power play, which has looked rather anemic lately without him and his booming slap shot.
Garrison and his contributions have been responsible for him scoring 13 goals, with eight of them while the Panthers had the man advantage. His absence has been noticed, even though teams lately had seemed to focus on clogging up the shooting lanes, and forcing him to pass since he had no open shot. Needless to say, the fact that he was there was threatening, and potentially left a lane available for someone else. Garrison is not quite ready to return, but has begun skating, and hopefully gets back in the lineup sooner rather than later.
In addition, Dmitry Kulikov an offensively gifted blue liner has also been on injured reserve with knee surgery. His slick passing to set up shots or goals was a key component of the Panthers offensive game. Kulikov has four goals and 24 helpers for 28 points. 12 of those points have been on the power play, again pointing out his absence even more. With both Garrison and Kulikov missing from the lineup, the pressure of scoring has fallen to the forwards, and the scoring balance that the Panthers had earlier in the season has been turned upside down.
As a team Florida has scored 144 goals, the least of any division leader in the NHL. Having lost two offensive minded defenceman on a team that already struggles to score, has put pressure squarely on the forwards to put the puck in the net, but also on the goaltending to keep the puck out of the net. It’s unrealistic to ask your goaltender to give up two goals or less every game, however that’s where the Panthers seem to be. In Theodore’s last three starts he’s given up a total of four goals. His record is 1-2-0 in that time. His goals against average in the past two home games is 1.53 and his save percentage is .955. With play like that, any goaltender deserves better fate. Especially when making saves like this one here against Saku Koivu.
It’s no secret that I was a fan of this acquisition back on July 1st and virtually singled out Theodore as the goaltender to sign should Tomas Vokoun not be retained. Many people questioned the move, but the signing of the veteran goaltender for two years at the discount price of $1.5 million per season seems like a bargain basement deal. Every so often you want your goaltender to steal a game for you, and I’m a firm believer in that as well. Problem is, when you can’t score, and you find yourself always playing from behind, all a goaltender can do is keep the game close. With Theodore’s play since he has returned from his knee injury, it’s plain to see that he’s more than done his share to carry the load, not only lately, but all season long.
He deserves better fate, and deserves to be rewarded for his play with a few additional W’s. The Panthers have a few days off to fix their offensive woes before their game Thursday against the Wild. The fact that they can play with confidence knowing that their goaltender is making crucial saves should give them cause to play more aggressively, and attack the opposition. It appears that the division is there for the taking. Time for Florida to grab it.
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