Sports

Florida Panthers backup goaltender spot in limbo due to COVID-19

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Florida Panthers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky (72) stops a puck during the first period of an NHL game against the Vancouver Canucks at FLA Live Arena in Sunrise, Florida, on Tuesday, January 11, 2022.

dvarela@miamiherald.com

There’s no question that Sergei Bobrovsky is the Florida Panthers’ No. 1 goaltender.

His backup? The Panthers are trying to figure that out right now with both of the Panthers’ primary options — Spencer Knight and Jonas Johansson — currently in the NHL’s COVID-19 protocols.

Johansson was added Thursday, so he is definitely unavailable for the Panthers on Friday when they host the Dallas Stars for the first game of a back-to-back that wraps up Saturday against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Interim coach Andrew Brunette said he will have better clarity on Knight’s status Friday but the team has “some backup plans in order” if Knight is also unavailable. Knight has been in COVID-19 protocols since Jan. 5 and has not practiced in the week and a half since.

“We’ll kind of figure it out as we go,” Brunette said, “but we’ll be OK.”

Luckily for the Panthers, Bobrovsky has been playing at a high level in net this season. He’s 17-3-3 on the season with a .919 save percentage and 2.55 goals against average in 25 starts — both on pace to be by far his best marks in his three seasons with the Panthers and the best of his career overall since the 2017-2018 season with the Blue Jackets (.921 save percentage, 2.42 goals against average).

“He’s just got a lot of confidence right now,” defenseman MacKenzie Weegar said, “and he’s got a lot of trust in the guys in front of him right now.”

Bobrovsky has started all but one game for the Panthers since they returned from their nearly two-week hiatus that started with a COVID-19 outbreak inside the organization and extended into the league’s holiday break.

The Panthers are 5-0-1 in those games, and Bobrovsky has a .923 save percentage in that span, including two games with more than 40 saves.

“He’s picked up his game real well since the break,” Brunette said. “He was sharp as I’ve seen him last game [42 saves on 44 shots in a win over the Vancouver Canucks]. I mean, he was outstanding, made some huge saves in crucial moments in that game. … He’s been great all year for us.”

This and that

Forward Noel Acciari was a full participant in practice Thursday but is still not set to make his season debut after sustaining an injury in the preseason that put him on long-term injured reserve. Brunette said Acciari will most likely travel with the Panthers for their upcoming five-game road trip and “hopefully at some point here in the next month or so he might be ready to go.”

Carter Verhaeghe had a maintenance day at practice but should be ready to play Friday.

Jordan McPherson covers the Miami Marlins and high school sports for the Miami Herald. He attended the University of Florida and covered the Gators athletic program for five years before joining the Herald staff in December 2017.





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