The Florida Panthers are Southeast Division champions for the first time in franchise history – what a remarkable sentence to type. Even after being up and down all this year, the Panthers still etched themselves as the division’s best team without a doubt. Our team should be proud.
The Panthers all year have been driven from behind by normally stellar goaltending, and fans have mostly found that as the goalies go, so go the Cats. Jose Theodore has been the stalwart in net for most of the season, and has been the unquestioned starter for that period as well. Scott Clemmensen has filled in nicely in relief of Theodore when he has been called, and has also won some key games. If you look at the big picture of the whole season, Theodore should easily be penned in as the starting goaltender for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
But doesn’t everyone know nothing for the Panthers is that easy. Clemmensen is off the charts hot lately, and the stats he has accumulated certainly gives Dineen pause when he considers who to start. Over the last three games, Clemmensen is 2-0-1 with a .959 save percentage, and over the entire season he owns a solid 14-6-6 record with a .913 save percentage. Certainly Clemmensen has established himself as a premier backup goaltender in the NHL, and the way he finished this season could justify some team giving him a solid multi-year contract.
His performance against the Carolina Hurricanes last night was great example of how in the zone Clemmensen has been. Scott moved from side to side easily and quickly, making save after save, always knowing where the puck was. His vision was great all game, stopping wrap-around chances, shots from the point, and chances off the rush. Whatever the Canes threw at Clemmer, the veteran goaltender had an answer.
Jose Theodore has been very much the opposite over his past two starts. Some goals surrendered against Winnipeg and Washington were quite simply weak. Theodore just didn’t look comfortable in either game, and I wondered in the back of my head why Dineen didn’t pull Theodore sooner. Regardless, his performances against the Jets and Capitals might have lost both games for the Panthers.
Even though things have worked out quite well for the Panthers (winning the division at home and all), the two goalies’ performances of late have to create a difficult choice for Dineen. He often says that he views things in the short-term as a head coach, so maybe that gives an edge to Clemmensen. But also we know that Dineen will stick by his goaltenders and give them chances to redeem themselves, so maybe that could give an edge to Theodore.
In my opinion, both goalies have done enough so far this year to start Game 1, but a slight edge goes to Jose. He has been the guy all year, and he should be the guy going into the playoffs. Questions still abound over Clemmensen’s consistency playing game after game, too. I say Theodore gets the start, but make no mistake, Dineen will have a quick trigger finger if he decides Jose isn’t up to snuff.
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