SUNRISE, FL - FEBRUARY 1: Goaltender Scott Clemmensen #30 of the Florida Panthers defends the net against the Washington Capitals on February 1, 2012 at the BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, Florida. The Panthers defeated the Capitals 4-2. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
With the announcement of a prolonged return for starting goaltender Jose Theodore and what could be a season ending healing process for promising prospect Jacob Markstrom, the outcome of the season has and continues to rest squarely on the shoulders of backup Scott Clemmensen, and boy has he done well saddling that tremendous weight. Not without a few hiccups along the road, Clemmensen has performed admirably since taking over for an injured Theodore in the New Years Eve game, amassing 268 saves on 286 shots over the course of 8 decisions. His 4-1-3 record certainly supports this assertion, Clemmensen has allowed 18 goals in those games while the Panthers have only scored 18 themselves; the goalie we quipped could only win when his team scored 5 has quieted doubters by keeping close games close and shutting the door when needed.
Coincidentally, Clemmensen has faced the backup-to-emergency starter-to-playoffs situation before, and it all came about from the solid play we've seen as of late. Continued after the jump.Since an extremely embarrassing start December 30th against the Rangers where Clemmensen surrendered 3 first period goals on 14 shots, he's had a notable rebound posting 8 consecutive games with a save percentage greater than .900. His lowest(.902) came in a bad home loss facing Pittsburgh with a zombie-Panther team in front of him, his best(.962) was an impressive 2-1 defeat of Vancouver. In that range, Clemmensen has posted a save percentage around .925 facing around 30-35 shots per game. Even in 'bad' showings, Clemmer is making the saves at the right time, ultimately forcing overtime or at the very least, keeping the games close. While we may hesitate to admit it, Clemmensen is keeping Florida alive in the standings with a suddenly bruised defense group and spotty offense. Only twice in those 8 games have the offense provided 3+ goals, the spectacular shootout win in Winnipeg and the most recent victory over Washington.
As I alluded to before, Clemmensen has been called upon in a big way before. We should all be familiar with the story by now, but in 08-09 when Clemmer was a Devil, superstar Martin Brodeur went down with an injury and Clemmensen carried the weight of the team from early November to late February making 40 starts. Most Devils fans are quick to admit that it was Clemmensen's 25 wins that propelled New Jersey into the playoffs with the Atlantic division title under their belt when the season could have hung in the balance. I did some searching back through the game logs, and found that Clemmensen's current stretch of 8 consecutive >.900 Sv% matches a career high set while Clemmer took over the starting role with New Jersey. Maybe it was the Devil's stingy defense, but Clemmensen played up to the task, much like he's doing now with Florida.
While I'm not saying we should abandon Theodore as the starter and switch solely to Clemmensen, I see absolutely no reason in the world to rush Jose back until he is fully recovered from his injury. In the mean time, do what well advised teams do and stick with the hot handed goalie, which Clemmensen most certainly is right now. Jose is the starter of the Panthers, and should they make the playoffs he will be the go-to guy. Until that seed is clinched and Jose is all better; it's full speed ahead for Clemmensen, especially now that the team is starting to awaken from the scoring funk but needs hot goaltending until all cylinders are firing and the team nears 100%. To put it this way, with the easiest remaining schedule in the league now's not the time to mess with anything that could backfire. If Clemmensen keeps the boo-birds at bay with solid play, this team can most certainly make the playoffs. Hand the reins to Clemmer for now, give him a show of confidence and let him do what he does, even if that means a few soft goals here and there, solid goaltending is the building block for true playoff pushes.