Florida Panthers: What’s Wrong with Sergei Bobrovsky?

When the Florida Panthers signed Sergei Bobrovsky to a seven-year, $70 million contract in July, the hope was that the long-standing goaltending issues in Sunrise would be solved.

Bobrovsky was coming off his best-ever postseason and rebounded after a bad start in Columbus to steer the Blue Jackets to their third straight playoff appearance.

Florida also hoped that Bobrovsky’s notoriously slow starts were something he left behind in Ohio, but with a GAA of 3.53 and an .882 save percentage through 17 games and 16 starts, that hasn’t happened. What, if anything, is wrong with Bobrovsky, and what can be done to fix it?

Charting Hockey says Sergei Bobrovsky’s goals saved above average is -11.84, by far the worst among starters in the league this year thus far. Hockey Reference is only slightly kinder, saying Bob’s GSAA is -11.76, also worst in the league among qualified netminders.

Even after the NHL adjusted their shot distance data, the numbers for Bobrovsky got no better. He’s not being bombarded with shots, though he is facing a good number of quality chances. But on average, he’s giving nearly a goal more per game than expected goals would suggest, which for a team like the Panthers who only play close games, that is the difference between winning and losing most nights.

“Obviously, I am not happy with the number of goals that have been scored,” said Bobrovsky to the Athletic after the loss to Winnipeg (Note: paywalled). What can I do right now? Every NHL season brings its own challenges and no matter how fresh you feel physically or mentally, there is going to be some adversity you have to overcome.”

Last October, Bobrovsky had an .882 save percentage and a GAA of 3.58, but turned it around in November with a .932 save percentage and a 2.11 GAA. This year, his November numbers are better than October’s, but only slightly.

Is Bobrovsky still getting used to the system around him? Does he trust the defense in front of him? Was there a style or coaching adjustment that can explain what has happened, or has he simply been played a game or two too often?

Likely, the answer falls somewhere in the middle. For all of the improvements that Joel Quenneville has made defensively, the team still has troubles with puck management in their own zone and net-front coverage hasn’t been up to par, leading to those good chances against. Outside of those defensive breakdowns, he’s still given up more than a few clunkers on a consistent basis, even as he has constantly made great saves to mask that.

His teammates and his coaches are publicly backing him, which certainly quells any notion of a goaltending controversy.

“We absolutely do,” Joel Quenneville said. “that is for sure. Players know, everyone goes through stretches where you’re at your best and other times when you’re up against it, regardless of the position. It’s magnified in goal. Just have to find your way through it and collectively, I think we all can help.”

While tightening up defensively and cutting down on mistakes would certainly help Bobrovsky’s numbers improve, perhaps this is the right time for a night or two off. He played 62 games last year, and he’s on track to perhaps go beyond that this year.

Though Sam Montembeault has had his ups and downs, he’s more than shown he’s capable of guiding the team through difficult spots, and a start not on the back end of a back-to-back might be enough to give Bobrovsky a chance to get a needed reset.

“You work hard and sometimes there are ups-and-downs, but you have to keep your focus,” Bobrovsky mentioned. “I have to be myself, keep working. … I have to play my system and trust myself and I will give these guys a chance to win.”

While Bobrovsky’s struggles are not likely to continue to this degree based on evidence from recent seasons, the Panthers cannot achieve what they set out to in a crowded East if they don’t get better play from their $10 million man. Team defense certainly needs to improve, but Bobrovsky has to as well. He knows it and his team knows it.

Next: Frank Vatrano is Flourishing on the Third Line

At the end of the day, his teammates can only outscore his problems for so long.

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