Scott Clemmensen tweaked his right knee just before the start of training camp, a minor injury that would need surgery. He had no idea at the time the strange season that would soon unfold.
Clemmensen not only lost his backup job but also ended up being sent down to the minors twice. He went almost a month without a start after a coaching change.
As usual, Clemmensen has bounced back from adversity.
“It’s never easy. My experience helps, but this isn’t an easy job,’’ said Clemmensen, who has made 86 starts for the Panthers over the past five seasons.
“This is my job, this is what I’ve been doing. When given the opportunity, I can step in and play regardless if I’ve been sitting for a while or someone gets hurt and I have to play a few in a row. Whatever it is, that’s my job.’’
On Sunday night, Clemmensen won in Montreal for the third time in four tries as he helped the Panthers to their first three-game winning streak of the season.
Clemmensen stepped in when Tim Thomas got hurt last week and has won his past two starts.
When the Panthers play at Toronto on Tuesday, expect Clemmensen to be back in net. It would be the first time he has started three in a row since the tail end of last season.
“You want to play all the time,’’ Clemmensen said after Florida's 2-1 win over the Canadiens. “When you're called, you have to be ready. The more you play, the more comfortable you get.’’
Clemmensen’s injury in September was expected to keep him out only for a few weeks. But it led general manager Dale Tallon to pursue — and eventually sign — Stanley Cup champion Tim Thomas.
Florida, all of a sudden, had three goalies.
With Thomas in as the starter and Jacob Markstrom backing him up, Clemmensen was sent to the minors to get some playing time.
Clemmensen came back after one start in San Antonio when Thomas got hurt in the third game of the season. But he would be sent back when Thomas returned.
When Thomas got hurt again, Clemmensen was recalled. This time a solid start in Washington led to him staying with the Panthers.
“It’s never easy,’’' Clemmensen said.
Clemmensen made one final start for coach Kevin Dineen on Nov. 7 in Boston. Dineen was fired the next day and Thomas was back off the injured list.
New coach Peter Horachek started Thomas in the next 14 games. By the time Clemmensen returned Dec. 8 in Chicago, he hadn’t started in a month. Florida lost 6-2.
“It was almost like coming back from an injury when you haven’t played in that long,’’ Brian Campbell said. “Then we go into Chicago and don’t play well in front of him. It’s tough there. Against Washington I still don’t think he felt all that comfortable. [Sunday] he looked good. If you don’t play, it’s not fun. You need to get into a groove.’’
With Thomas on the injured list for the third time, Clemmensen was given the start Friday against Washington. Florida won 3-2, one in which Clemmensen made the final six saves in the shootout.
That game led Clemmensen to a start Sunday in Montreal, where he improved his record against the Canadiens to 7-1.
Thomas could be back from his most recent injury by the weekend. If so, he returns as the starter. Yet Clemmensen has regained the trust of his teammates, and almost as important, his coach.
“He’s doing what he’s supposed to be doing,’’ Horachek said. “He’s a quality pro who is stepping into tough situations and tough opportunities. ... He’s done a really good job, has prepared himself and has kept us in games.’’• If Erik Gudbranson doesn’t play Tuesday after sustaining a lower-body laceration during Sunday’s game, Mike Mottau would likely step in. Mottau, 35, has been scratched for the past six games and in nine of the past 10.
“Being in the position I’m in, this is more mental than physical,’’ said Mottau, who has played in 320 NHL games. “I'm getting my work in during practice. Not being in the game makes you simplify things when you do.’’