Roberto Luongo’s looming return is big for Panthers

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An in-season journey overseas can be disruptive for even the most well-acquainted teams, yet this Finnish trip isn’t the only curveball the Florida Panthers have been dealing with.

Years of wear and tear (sometimes absorbing a hail of shots, often with Florida) seem to be catching up to Roberto Luongo, and it didn’t take long for them to catch up with the veteran goalie again. Just one game into 2018-19, Luongo suffered an injury that landed him on IR. Thursday brings a positive sign, then: he’s been taken off IR.

The less-good news is that Luongo’s not expected to play in Thursday or Friday’s Global Series games against the Winnipeg Jets, yet coach Bob Boughner believes he is close, as NHL.com’s Brian Compton reports.

“Officially, if [Luongo] is ready, he could play, but we’re going to make that decision tomorrow,” Boughner said. “I could see him more playing when we get back home, [but] he’s close. He’s real close.”

Considering what the 39-year-old goalie has been through, it’s not that surprising that Florida’s being conservative regarding Luongo’s return. Bougher wants him to be at “110 percent,” which is something we should all strive for, really.

(You had me at 85 percent.)

When Luongo went down with his latest injury, the thought was that Florida was at least reasonably prepared to roll without their No. 1 goalie.

After all, James Reimer‘s been either a starting goalie (in Toronto) or a prominent “platoon” option for some time, and the Panthers scooped up a reasonably inexperienced netminder in Michael Hutchinson as added goalie insurance. If nothing else, the Panthers are allocating serious resources beyond Luongo; Reimer’s $3.4 million cap hit runs for three more seasons.

Well, they haven’t really been getting their money’s worth so far. The Panthers head into this game against the Jets with a frustrating 2-4-3 record, and poor goaltending ranks as one of their biggest issues. Reimer’s been disappointing (.878 save percentage in seven games) and Hutchinson’s been lousy (.839 in four games), so it’s not shocking that Florida ranks among the dregs as far as team save percentage goes.

The Panthers can’t expect their battered puckstopper to heal all wounds, but you can forgive them for crossing their fingers that Luongo might at least stop the bleeding.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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