After a summer full of splashy spending, the Florida Panthers find themselves in the murky middle, with a strange (and frustrating) record of 5-3-4.
For a franchise ranked only 14th in shootout wins (68) despite leading the league in shootouts since the format began in 2005-06 (162, losing 94, 10 more shootout losses than any other team), seeing four in that last category has to be frustrating.
But, really, the Panthers should probably find relief in the fact that, if the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs began before Wednesday’s games, they’d be the second wild-card team. That’s an accomplishment because, frankly, it’s been a terrible start for their $10 million goalie Sergei Bobrovsky.
What’s this about, Bob?
You don’t have to dig too deep to see how rocky the start has been for “Bob.” It’s remarkable that he’s managed even a mediocre 4-2-3 record considering an abysmal .870 save percentage.
Things don’t get a lot better when you look at deeper stats. While discussing the hottest goalie starts to 2019-20, PHT frequently pointed to GSAA (goals saved above average), a metric that attempts to compare how a goalie performs compared to other goalies facing similar chances and situations. The flipside to over-performing goalies in that stat is goalies who’ve seemingly underachieved, and things look glum for Bobrovsky there.
By Hockey Reference’s standards, Bobrovsky’s GSAA is -9.71, the second-worst mark in the NHL behind only free-falling Kings goalie Jonathan Quick (-12.13). Things don’t really get better based on Emmanuel Perry’s measurements at Corsica Hockey, and you can see that Bob falls low on this Hockey Viz graph as well.
Less than half of Bobrovsky’s starts (.444 percent) are considered “quality starts,” according to Hockey Reference. Looking at Bob’s game logs, he’s been at or above a .914 save percentage in four appearances, and at .878 or below (sometimes drastically below) during his other six with Florida so far.
It’s important to remember that this is a small sample size, and it’s not as though Bob hasn’t managed the occasional wonderful save:
… But yes, it’s been a rough start.
It’s fair to wonder if Bobrovsky is simply one of those goalies who gets off to slow starts, like a bear making a big yawn (do bears yawn?) after hibernating through the winter.
Looking at Bobrovsky’s career split stats, you could advance an argument, scientific or not. During his career in October, his save percentage has been on average .903 (or .908 if you take out the disastrous month of October 2019), which would be his worse average of any month, though he’s struggled a bit in Februaries (.909).
If Bob’s past patterns hold, November could present a big turnaround, as that month is his second strongest (.924 career average, March is the highest at .933, and is the largest sample with 97GP).
Bobrovsky certainly got off to a slow start in 2018-19, with a .904 save percentage before the All-Star Break and then a .924 mark afterward. The Panthers have to hope that November wakeup call happens.
Nature vs. nurture
So, how much of Bob’s bad start is on him, and how much of this comes down to Florida struggling?
Looking at team numbers at Natural Stat Trick, we can see that the Panthers have been a strong team in puck possession measures like Corsi and Fenwick, along with simpler stats like shots and scoring chances for.
… But there’s a catch.
The Panthers have allowed almost 10 high-danger chances against per 60 minutes (9.97) while creating a bit less than eight of their own (7.94). Generating only 44.32 of the high-danger chances in their games makes for the fourth-worst discrepancy in the NHL.
More specifically to Bobrovsky, he’s faced 55 high-danger shots (or 5.5 per night) at five-on-five, giving him a troubling save percentage of .745 in those situations. Natural Stat Trick’s various stats indicate that he’s struggling relative to what other goalies might be expected to produce in those scenarios.
It’s not all bad for the Panthers defense, as they’ve seemed to keep rush attempts under reasonable control, yet the bigger picture makes it clear that they could probably do more to insulate their struggling, big-money puckstopper.
The most important thing to realize is that it’s early.
Bobrovsky is on a new team, in a new city, and that new team is adjusting to a new system being installed by a new coach.
He’s also had a history of slow starts followed by hot streaks. The big picture of Bobrovsky’s career is elite more often than not.
Of course, patience will only last so long, especially at Bob’s price tag. The Panthers face the Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday, so if Bobrovsky’s the starter, he could get another chance to prove himself in mere hours.