For the first time in almost a month, Roberto Luongo appeared in net for the Florida Panthers.
Since suffering a knee injury in the season opener on October 6th, Luongo’s absence has been painfully apparent.
The Cats have arguably been the biggest disappointment of the season thus far. With only three wins in their first 11 games, they currently have the second-worst record in the league, forcing many people (including myself) to wonder why on Earth did we ever believe in the Florida Panthers during the offseason?
However, Lu’s return may have jarred our memory.
Despite missing 10 games, there seemed to be no rust on the 39-year-old goaltender. Allowing only two goals on 34 shots, Luongo posted a save percentage of .941%. A feat that is becoming increasingly difficult against an extremely goal-hungry Jets team.
This level of play from a goalie is something the team is unaccustomed to as of late. During Luongo’s recovery, the Panther limped through games with the underachieving goalie tandem of James Reimer and Michael Hutchinson.
The pair combined for a .883% save percentage, well below the league average of .908%. Not only was the level of play from the goaltender position drastically improved – but with Lu in net – the Panthers looked confident, fast, and like a team poised for a playoff run.
"“He gives us a lot of confidence. He’s telling us what to do, he talks a lot on the ice and off the ice.”"
With Luongo’s overall skill at the position and this newfound confidence in goaltending, the Panthers may be able to save this sinking ship before it gets out of hand.
Although the Panthers are at the bottom of the standings this season, they have plenty of positive aspects of their game.
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However, the team’s defense has been atrocious during the first month of the season, allowing a flood of shots from the middle of the ice. Due to the defensive struggles, Coach Bob Boughner has shuffled the lines on several occasions.
In combination with Luongo’s injury and the poor defense, the Panthers rank dead last in the league on the penalty kill at just 68.4% and 24th in the league in goals against, with 3.55 per game.
One can assume that with Luongo’s return that these numbers will improve. Having his presence in the lineup will also take pressure off of Reimer to perform which will hopefully improve his numbers as well.
If the offense continues to click, the idea of climbing up the standings doesn’t seem so far-fetched. What the Panthers have shown us this year is that Luongo is the glue to this team.
If he were to suffer another injury (possibly career ending at his age), this team will fall apart and any hopes of a late-season playoff push similar to last season will be put to bed.
However, the Panthers are in a scenario where they need to rattle off several wins in a row to catch up to the rest of the league, which may incentivize them to play Luongo more aggressively.
And if they do, they are risking another injury to arguably their most vital player. I expect a heavy dose of Reimer until Lu is at 100% and ready to shoulder the workload.