The Florida Panthers are going to need elite goaltending from Sergei Bobrovsky if they are going to win their upcoming play-in series.
Last summer, the Florida Panthers broke the bank by signing goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky to a seven-year, $70M deal to kick-off free agency. None of that came as a surprise considering the unsurprising link that Florida had to Bobrovsky in search for a new No. 1.
Fast forward to the start of the 2019-20 season and expectations were high. Expectations weren’t only high because of the new coaching staff behind the bench, led by Joel Quenneville, but because of all of the signings that Florida brought in. The signing with the most to prove was none other than Bobrovsky.
The Russian netminder experienced an up-and-down year with Columbus prior to hitting the open market. He had his troubles both on and off the ice which affected his play, but by the time the playoffs rolled around, the old Bobrovsky was back in force. He was so dominant in Columbus’ first-round series against Tampa Bay that he led them to a surprising, four-game sweep that shocked the hockey world.
Soon after he departed from Columbus, Ohio, Bobrovsky embarked on a new journey in his career that would take place in the warm, tropical climate of Sunrise, Florida. That Vezina-like display that turned heads is what Florida was shelling out the money for. Not only were they hoping for regular-season performances like that, but they were hopeful that it would lead to eventual playoff victories.
Bobrovsky’s first season in red and white wasn’t all that smooth. He ended the year with a .900 SV% – his lowest in 50+ games played – along with a career-worst GAA of 3.23. None of this can entirely be attributed to Bobrovsky himself, especially when you dive into why his play dipped. His D core in front of him was a nightmare to play beside, often leaving him to dry in high-danger areas, which in turn led to prime scoring chances being offered to the opposition. All of this had a trickling effect, which resulted in Florida giving up the fourth-most goals per game.
With little confidence in the guys who play in front of him protecting his goal, Bobrovsky was left with virtually no confidence at crucial parts in the season, leaving him very vulnerable mentally. This led to the rise of Chris Driedger, who not only relieved Bobrovsky but took some of his games through merit based on the Russian’s struggles. Effectively, this was the last thing Florida was hoping to endure, having their $10 million goalie sitting on the bench. But for the sake of the team and their playoff hopes, Quenneville was forced to play the hotter hand, which was Chris Driedger.
Heading into their upcoming play-in series against the New York Islanders, though, the Panthers will rely heavily on Sergei Bobrovsky to lead the way. Quenneville has already mentioned that Bobrovsky will start the series in between the pipes, with full confidence that he can guide the ship after taking some time off from the ice. The Coronavirus shutdown certainly helped him in that regard, allowing him to nurse any lingering injuries as well as restoring confidence that he previously had.
The Panthers are looking for that same Sergei Bobrovsky who shut down Tampa Bay in last year’s first-round, which was dubbed as the 2019 playoff’s biggest upset. If Bobrovsky still has it in him to display that type of series-altering performance, then the Cats could see life past the qualifying round. But what prevents Bobrovsky from displaying that type of performance is his defense in front of him, and without a competent defense core protecting his cage, there’s no chance that Bobrovsky can do his job.
Ultimately, it all lies at the hands of the players on the blue line and whether or not they have it in them to give their goaltender enough help. The offense should not be a worry with the firepower that Florida contains in their top six alone, but it’s their defense that’s holding them back and been holding them back for years on end. That unaddressed concern has deeply affected their star goaltender, preventing him from playing to the level that he’s capable of playing to. If the Panthers can’t find a way to improve defensively in front of Bobrovsky, there’s just no possible way of advancing past the Islanders – a team that’s had Florida’s number throughout the season.
Overall, it’s up to Joel Quenneville and staff to find a formula that will work for Florida on all three ends of the ice, specifically in their zone. Bobrovsky knows that he needs to better, and that if he doesn’t elevate his game by the time the series rolls around, his team could be facing an early exit. By the same token, the D knows they have to be equally as good as Bob to lessen his workload for what could go to a maximum of five games.
Either way, if Florida envisions winning their play-in series and moving onto a long playoff run, then Sergei Bobrovsky is going to need to be elite for that to happen as he has the keys to the doors that Florida wants to unlock.