March 5, 2013

With Florida Panthers’ goalie situation tenuous, fans clamoring for young Jacob Markstrom

Jose Theodore, now injured, and backup Scott Clemmensen have struggled, and fans are clamoring for Jacob Markstrom.

After yet another loss left his Florida Panthers last among15 teams in the Eastern Conference, coach Kevin Dineen was in no mood late Sunday night to discuss which goaltender would start Tuesday’s home game against Winnipeg.

“I never make my goalie decisions until later,” he said.

Many of the fans, though, already have made their choice: Jacob Markstrom.

“We want Markstrom” was the chant heard Sunday after every goal allowed by Scott Clemmensen, the backup who was filling in for injured starter Jose Theodore.

But even before Theodore got injured Saturday, the Panthers’ defensive numbers were ugly. They entered Monday last in the league with a 3.68 goals-against average.

Out of 72 goalies who have seen action this year, Jose Theodore is 66th in GAA (3.29) and 59th in save percentage (.893).

Clemmensen is 72nd in GAA (4.15) and 69th in save percentage (.859).

All signs, then, point to Markstrom, 23, who on Jan. 23, 2011, made his NHL debut and became the youngest goalie in Panthers history. He is 2-7-1 so far in his brief NHL career.

This year, he has played two games for the Panthers and ranks 28th in save percentage (.915) and 60th in GAA (3.05).

The Panthers lost both games despite Markstrom’s solid efforts.

It appears that Markstrom is the Panthers’ best hope at reprising last season’s surprising march to their first division title. The Panthers ended their decade-old playoff drought largely on the backs of Theodore and Clemmensen — Florida was 12th in the league in goals-against average (2.63) last season.

But much has changed since then for the Panthers, including the defensemen assigned to protect those goalies. Jason Garrison, a key piece, left as a free agent, and veteran Ed Jovanovski has missed 17 of the team’s 22 games.

The latest bad news for the defensemen came in the past couple days, when injuries hit Dmitry Kulikov and Mike Weaver.

That’s half of their top-six defensemen out of action.

Add to that the injury-related lack of productivity from last year’s top offensive line of Stephen Weiss, Kris Versteeg and Tomas Fleischmann, and it’s easy to see why the Panthers are in last place.

But, just in case, here are some more of the Panthers’ ugly numbers:

• Their penalty kill ranks 29th in the league at 75 percent.
• When they have outshot their opponents, they have not been rewarded often enough, posting a 3-5-2 record and a .300 win percentage that ranks 29th in the league.
• Many of their losses have not been close: They lead the league with eight three-goal defeats.
• They can’t blame the refs. Their power play minus penalty kill time is plus-8:03, which ranks 15th of the league.

There are no simple solutions to the Panthers’ problems, but a better start would help.

They are playing .556 hockey when scoring first, and they are dead last at 1-9-3 (.077) when allowing the first goal.

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