Friday, April 13, 2012

Previewing Panthers Playoff Goaltending from The Goalie Guild

Previewing Panthers Playoff Goaltending

On Tuesday afternoon, I was asked to join Josh Luecht from on his podcast, Rat Trick Radio, to preview the playoff goaltending situation for the Florida Panthers. This was a really quick and fun discussion, as I am personally quite intrigued with this first-round series between the Panthers and the New Jersey Devils.

Click here to find the podcast.

Josh asked a solid set of questions, including the underrated and under-the-radar status of both Jose Theodore and Scott Clemmensen, their ability to play well in the playoffs, and what they can do to be successful against the Devils. He also asked for my thoughts on Martin Brodeur, specifically what the Panthers can do to be successful against him. We also took a few minutes to discuss beastly #3 goalie Jacob Markstrom, and what makes him my top-ranked prospect.

Thanks for taking a few minutes to check out the Rat Trick Radio podcast, and be sure to follow these guys on Twitter @RatTrickRadio if you are looking for solid content on the Panthers. It’s an exciting time for hockey fans in Florida, and I’m excited to see how this quarterfinal series goes down!

If I were to apply the five different dynamics of playoff goaltending that I discussed back on Wednesday, I come out thinking the Panthers could be primed for an upset. Both Theodore and Clemmensen are rested (53 and 30 games played respectively), and they are veteran goaltenders with tons of experience, so they bring a poised and relaxed presence to the Panthers crease. They have worked well together as a tandem all season long, and even though they aren’t considered a highly skilled tandem, they are silent assassins that get the job done quietly.

Although I have no evidence to back this up, I do wonder if Theodore is truly 100-percent healthy right now. Josh and I actually chatted on the phone for a good 10 minutes after the podcast ended about this topic. We both agreed that he didn’t look the same in the final five games of his regular season, and after winning four straight games from March 11-17, he went on a downward spiral, going 0-3-4 to finish the season. He performed well in the first five games of that downward spiral, allowing just 12 goals, but the final two games were particularly troubling, as he allowed nine goals on just 53 shots.

There are certainly many ways to try and discern if Theodore is truly 100-percent healthy or not, but since I can’t watch the Panthers practice, there’s no knowing for sure. If you’re a Panthers fan, maybe you saw some things in his final few games that made you wonder about his health, but I hate to speculate (even though that’s exactly what I’m doing). I saw some things in terms of slightly limited mobility and flexibility, but nothing that led me to believe he’s truly playing through an injury. I simply don’t know for sure.

Furthermore, he could be trying to play through some nagging aches and pains, making it even tougher to know how he’s truly feeling heading into Game 1. Many goalies do this on a fairly consistent basis, as it’s just part of being a durable athlete in the game of hockey. Nobody wants to admit they are hurt, and everyone wants to play every single game, no matter what. That’s part of being a professional goaltender.

As of publishing this, it still wasn’t clear who would be the starting goaltender for Game 1. Many people believe it will be Clemmensen getting the nod, as he has an opportunity to seek revenge on his former team, and his former head coach, Pete DeBoer. That makes a lot of sense to me, and it’s obviously not a bad choice considering how well he has played down the stretch for the Panthers.

Things bring me to another one of the five dynamics — personal matchups. Theodore is 8-14-3 with a 2.64 GAA and .903 SV% against the Devils in his career, and 1-0-1 with a 2.40 GAA and .915 SV% (54 saves on 59 shots) against them in a Panthers uniform. Clemmensen is 4-0-0 with a 2.05 GAA and .937 SV% against the Devils in his career, and 1-0-0 against them this season with 27 saves on 28 shots, a .964 SV%.

Clearly, Clemmensen would deserve to start Game 1 tonight with those kind of career stats. But as I said in the podcast above, I would still start Theodore. He carried the team for most of the season, and if the coaching staff feels he’s healthy, enough time has gone by from his last game to where he could have recovered from any minor nagging tweaks or bruises. If he struggles, or shows that he’s clearly not healthy, having Clemmensen coming off the bench is not only a spark, it’s something he (and the team) is comfortable experiencing. He has done it all season long, and doing it in the playoffs won’t faze him one bit.

This may not be the way the coaching staff sees things, so it’s going to be fun to see how things pan out for tonight’s game. I really do like this goaltending battle — I don’t think Brodeur and the Devils are going to cruise. I might be one of the only analysts that took the Panthers to upset the Devils, and I’ll stick by that prediction.

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