How Quenneville plans to handle goaltender duties until Bobrovsky is cleared to play

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Jordan McPherson
·3 min read
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The Florida Panthers’ goaltending situation will be tested early.

When the season starts Sunday against the Chicago Blackhawks, it will be Chris Driedger in net for Florida at the BB&T Center, not Sergei Bobrovsky. And it will also be Sam Montembeault, not Bobrovsky, backing up Driedger.

Why?

Bobrovsky is starting the 2021 season on the non-roster list, essentially meaning he is “deemed unfit and/or unavailable to play,” according to the NHL collective bargaining agreement. That’s the catch-all phrase the NHL is using nowadays in the age of COVID-19. Although Bobrovsky has practiced on Wednesday, Friday and after missing the Panthers’ first eight practices of training camp, he has not been cleared for Sunday’s season opener, although coach Joel Quenneville inferred that Bobrovsky could potentially be ready by Tuesday’s second matchup against Chicago. That, however, is still not set in stone.

“Hopefully it’s not long,” Quenneville said of Bobrovsky’s absence on game day. “We’ll see how many games that is.”

So Quenneville instead will turn the net over, at least to start the season, to the two players who expected to enter camp competing for the backup goaltending job. Quenneville said he is still figuring out how to handle playing time between Driedger and Montembeault, with the timeline fluidity of Bobrovsky’s return and the condensed schedule factoring into that decision.

“Back-to-backs will be something I’m sure we’ll look at, the opponents sometimes with so many games in so many nights could be part of it. Hopefully, we’re not going too far into the season where we have to make this decision.”

A positive: The two have gotten their fair share of reps throughout this shortened training camp with Bobrovsky sidelined until the final days. They played the entirety of the Panthers’ two intrasquad scrimmages and were the main netminders throughout all of training camp until Bobrovsky first stepped on the ice Wednesday.

“Guys are getting the rust off and we’re starting to work as a cohesive unit,” Driedger said. “... It’s going to be a good opportunity for us to kind of dial in with little tweaks from last year.”

Driedger would appear to be the front-runner to get the bulk of the opportunities until Bobrovsky is cleared to play. He finished the 2019-2020 season as the Panthers’ primary backup and went 7-3-1 in 15 games (11 starts) with a 2.12 goals against average and a .933 save percentage. He gave up two goals or fewer in five of his 11 starts.

Montembeault has a career 9-8-3 record in 25 games (19 starts), with a 3.20 goals against average and .892 save percentage.

“It’s gonna be a different year, especially with the crowded schedule,” Montembeault said. “You never know what’s going to happen. You have a lot more back-to-back games and the COVID injuries. We never know what’s going to happen. I just want to be good and practice good habits and be ready when I get the opportunity.”

But the limelight will be on Bobrovsky once he’s finally cleared to play.

And Bobrovsky knows he has something to prove when that time comes.

The first season of his seven-year, $70 million contract with the Florida Panthers went nowhere near as expected. His .900 save percentage ranked 46th among 54 goalies who played in at least 25 games. His 3.23 goals against average ranked 51st. Both were the worst marks of Bobrovsky’s career for any season in which he started more than 25 games.

“The expectations are high,” Quenneville said.

But Bobrovsky will have to wait at least a little bit until he has the chance to redeem himself.

“A little setback here,” Quenneville said, “but I think he’s more than excited to get the season going and doing what he has to do. He’s approached it the right way.”