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From The Press Box


From The Press Box is a weekly column written by FloridaPanthers.com and NHL.com writer Alain Poupart. Poupart has been covering the Panthers and the NHL for 20 years.

Have a question for Alain? Be sure to ask him through twitter @apoupartFins.


Clemm’s Comeback

Veteran goalie Scott Clemmensen has rediscovered his form of two years ago while coming up big during the absence of Tim Thomas.

Wednesday, 12.18.2013 / 3:15 PM / From The Press Box
By Alain Poupart  - FloridaPanthers.com
Goaltender Scott Clemmensen makes a save in Sunday's game in Montreal. (Getty Images)

The Panthers are in the midst of their longest winning streak since March of 2012, and we can point to several factors for an inspiring run that has them back in the playoff conversation.

Young centers Aleksander Barkov and Nick Bjugstad have become big factors on a nightly basis; young defenseman Dylan Olsen continues his surprising offensive surge; Dmitry Kulikov has responded to a one-game benching by playing stellar hockey; Erik Gudbranson is playing rock-solid defense in the Panthers zone. And we could go on and on.

But near the top of the list, if not the very top, has to be goaltending. Quite simply, the Panthers wouldn’t be on this run of four consecutive victories and six out of seven without quality goaltending. And the man doing the job right now is Scott Clemmensen.

The veteran backup is playing his best hockey since the playoff season of 2011-12, and that is just one of the many encouraging signs for the Panthers right now.

Having quality goaltending is key for any team in the National Hockey League, but it’s especially important for teams without marquee offensive players like Sidney Crosby or Alexander Ovechkin or Patrick Kane or the Sedin twins.

The Panthers soon might have one of those types of players — and maybe more than just one — if Jonathan Huberdeau, Bjugstad and Barkov continue to progress and build off the solid starts all have had in the NHL. As it stands right now, though, the Panthers need to work hard for their goals and they simply can’t afford to give up shaky goals.

Unfortunately, it happened too often last season and it happened too often early this season. Make no mistake, that was a big reason for the Panthers’ struggles.

For the Panthers to have success, they need for their goaltending to be a strength, not a concern. Again, while that sounds obvious, it’s more important for a team that operates with a smaller margin for error.

For example, it’s a lot less damaging for the Penguins to give up a bad goal when they can just watch Evgeni Malkin go out on the next shift, skate through three defenders and score a goal.

If you think back to the Panthers’ Southeast Division title run in 2012, the contributions of a Brian Campbell or the top line of Stephen Weiss, Kris Versteeg and Fleischmann quickly come to mind. But the Panthers also had strong goaltending that year from both Jose Theodore and Clemmensen.

For assorted reasons, including the lockout of 2012 and a knee operation before the start of this season, Clemmensen simply hadn’t been the same goalie until recently. The numbers bear that out: His save percentage his first three seasons in Florida was between .911 and .913 before dipping to .874 last season and .857 through his first five appearances this year.

But something clearly has clicked for “Clemm.” With Tim Thomas sidelined with a groin injury, Clemmensen has started the last three games. In those three games, he has given up four goals and stopped 68 of 72 shots, a save percentage of .944.

The hope coming into the season was that Thomas would be able to steal some victories for the Panthers. That was part of the formula for the Panthers to be able to contend for a playoff spot.

Quality goaltending is at the forefront of the Panthers’ current winning streak when you consider they beat Detroit, Washington and Montreal with two goals each time, earning the extra point in the shootout against the Red Wings and Capitals.

Thomas was playing perhaps his best hockey of the season when he was injured in practice last week and the hope is he can pick up where he left off when he returns, which should be soon. In the meantime, Clemmensen is holding down the fort in a most impressive way.

UPCOMING EVENTS

SCHEDULE

HOME
AWAY
PROMOTIONAL

STANDINGS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 p - BOS 82 54 19 9 261 177 117
2 y - PIT 82 51 24 7 249 207 109
3 x - TBL 82 46 27 9 240 215 101
4 x - MTL 82 46 28 8 215 204 100
5 x - NYR 82 45 31 6 218 193 96
6 x - PHI 82 42 30 10 236 235 94
7 x - CBJ 82 43 32 7 231 216 93
8 x - DET 82 39 28 15 222 230 93
9 WSH 82 38 30 14 235 240 90
10 NJD 82 35 29 18 197 208 88
11 OTT 82 37 31 14 236 265 88
12 TOR 82 38 36 8 231 256 84
13 CAR 82 36 35 11 207 230 83
14 NYI 82 34 37 11 225 267 79
15 FLA 82 29 45 8 196 268 66
16 BUF 82 21 51 10 157 248 52

STATS

2013-2014 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
N. Bjugstad 76 16 22 -14 38
S. Upshall 76 15 22 1 37
B. Campbell 82 7 30 -6 37
B. Boyes 78 21 15 -6 36
S. Bergenheim 62 16 13 -16 29
J. Huberdeau 69 9 19 -5 28
T. Fleischmann 80 8 20 -18 28
T. Gilbert 73 3 25 -5 28
B. Pirri 49 13 12 6 25
A. Barkov 54 8 16 -3 24
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
R. Luongo 25 23 7 .919 2.40
S. Clemmensen 6 7 1 .896 3.09
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