Spencer Knight Struggling to Find Footing in NHL – Sent to AHL

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Just over a quarter of the way through the season and it’s clear as day that Spencer Knight is struggling in his first NHL season.

Spencer Knight and the Florida Panthers were on the receiving end of an 8-2 spanking by the lowly Ottawa Senators the other night. Head Coach Andrew Brunette kept the young goaltender in for all eight goals against, doing absolutely no favours for his confidence.

Spencer Knight Generates Hype After Successful Debut

Knight, the highly-touted prospect out of Boston College made his NHL debut late last season. It was as successful a start as a young netminder could hope for. The 20-year-old suited up against the Columbus Blue Jackets and put together an impressive 33 save effort in the 5-1 win.

 Knight would appear in four games during the regular season, with three being starts. He went undefeated in those four games and posted a respectable 2.32 goals-against-average and .919 save percentage.

However, his hype grew highest when the Florida Panthers turned to the rookie netminder to save their season in the playoffs. Sergei Bobrovsky and Chris Driedger sputtered in their first-round matchup against the eventual champion, Tampa Bay Lightning. The Panthers surrendered 19 goals in their first four games, so, down 3-1 in the series and with nowhere else to go, Florida rolled the dice and went with the fairly unproven Knight.

And boy did he put on a show. Knight stood on his head in his playoff debut, making 36 saves in the game five elimination game, helping the Panthers stay alive with a 4-1 win. Knight followed up that performance with a pedestrian 20 save effort in a 4-0 loss, which ended the Panthers’ season. 

No blame could be put on the young netminder, as he came in and did all that was asked of him in trying to bail out the teams top two goalies. But perhaps that last game allowed a snippet into where Spencer Knights development was really at, even if we all wanted to ignore it at the time.

Knight Gets Promotion to Backup to Begin the Year

Going into the 2021-22 season, all the talk about the Florida crease was which of their trio of goalies would become the starter. The murky waters become a touch clearer as Chris Driedger took his talents to the Seattle Kraken, leaving Bobrovsky and his big contract to compete with the young stalwart.

Then coach at the time, Joel Quenneville, elected to go with the more experienced Bobrovsky. This decision quickly proved to be the right call.  It seemed that all the uncertainty in Bobrovsky’s abysmal play in the playoffs was all but forgotten as he stood on his head to start the year. Sergei opened the year with seven straight wins, only allowing more than two goals once in that span.

However, a minor injury to Bobrovsky back in early November thrust the young Knight back into the spotlight. He made a spectacular debut (30 saves, 4-1 win) against the same team that eliminated his team from the playoffs last spring. However, his starts since coming in for relief of Bobrovsky have been anything but, albeit a staggering 45-save win against the New Jersey Devils.

Spencer Knight Struggling During Rough Stretch of Games

The 13th overall pick in the 2019 NHL Draft has lacked any sort of consistency in his starts. Perhaps the only thing that’s been consistent with him has been how inconsistent he is. In his last 10 appearances (seven of them starts) Spencer has gone 4-4-1, with one game not getting credit for the loss as he only surrendered one goal in relief.

What’s most troubling is that he has allowed 33 goals during that span. In five of those seven starts, Knight has allowed three or more goals, and has allowed six or more twice. It is obvious that Knight is clearly struggling.

In those four wins, Spencer has had tremendous goal-support, to the tune of 22 goals. We all know Florida is capable of scoring in bunches, and have flexed their offensive prowess time and time again this season. However, what is hurting the team, is not getting big, timely saves from Knight when they need it.

The powerhouse offence of the Panthers has allowed the rookie to get starts and make mistakes. But the offence can’t keep being relied on to bail him out. With Bobrovky’s numbers beginning to regress in his last few starts (three or more goals allowed in five of six starts), there are rumblings around the arena about what Florida’s goaltending plan will be, should Bobrovsky see his game tank.

Where Do We Go From Here

 There is not a lot of confidence surrounding Knight as of this moment. And after an opportunity to bounce back against an Ottawa team that ranked 19th overall in goals scored, getting shelled for eight against has not helped his case.

There are a lot of growing pains for rookies in the NHL. Perhaps the immediate success of guys like Jordan Binnington and Andrei Vasilevskiy, among others, have skewed expectations of what to expect from the young goalie.

Goaltending is arguably the hardest position to play and typically requires the most grooming in the minors before being NHL ready. So the fact that Spencer Knight is even here and getting starts is just a testament to how far along he is in his NHL journey.

That still doesn’t dismiss the fact that his overall numbers on the season of 3.42 goals-against-average and .892 save percentage aren’t even close to NHL calibre. It’s a long season but it will feel even longer for Spencer Knight if he can’t fix his play sooner than later. Perhaps a conditioning stint in the minors would help boost his confidence. Florida just picked up goalie Jonas Johansson, so perhaps they can give him some starts and give Knight some productive time away.

Knight is surely the future of this Panthers crease, but it is imperative now for the organization to be realistic as to exactly where his level of play is. With Spencer Knight struggling, perhaps now is the time to send him to their AHL affiliate, Charlotte Checkers, and allow him to develop more before he completely loses his footing, and stumbles his way out of the NHL for good.

Update

Knight has officially been sent down to AHL affiliate, Charlotte Checkers. This is the right move for the organization. As mentioned, Knight is in line to be the future of the Panthers’ goal crease, but it is clear that he is struggling and could benefit from developing his game more in the minors.

Florida will now go with recently acquired Johansson as the backup behind Bobrovsky. He was previously with the Colorado Avalanche where he sported a 3-2-1 record with a 3.89 goals-against-average and .880 save percentage.

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