Editor’s Note: This story has been updated and the headline changed after it was announced that Spencer Knight would be away from the Florida Panthers as he receives care from the player assistance program of the NHL and NHLPA. This story was originally published on the morning of Feb. 24, 2023 and was written before Knight entered the assistance program. I believe Paul Maurice and the Panthers were unaware of this development when the story was compiled on Thursday afternoon. — George Richards
SUNRISE — After a rough couple of months in which he was dealing with illness and injury, the Florida Panthers sent goalie Spencer Knight down to the AHL on Wednesday.
Knight first got sick in early December and then sustained a still-undisclosed injury.
The results: Knight has gone 1-4-0 with a .853/4.58 since.
Knight’s illness came right when it appeared he had taken over as Florida’s starting goalie — but Sergei Bobrovsky took the job back in his absence as he got his game going to the tune of 13-9-1 with a .913/2.81 during that time.
The demotion to the minors, in this case, is not really a demotion.
For Knight, it is an opportunity to play a lot of hockey and get his game back on the right track. The 21-year-old is just in his second full NHL season and needs to play.
With the Panthers only having a couple of games a week — and Bobrovsky scheduled to start them — Knight would either be sitting the bench in Sunrise or playing for Charlotte.
UPDATE: Knight’s assignment to the Checkers has been canceled as he will be away from the organization for an unknown amount of time.
“It is so much uniquely schedule based and then kind of sickness and health based for him,” Florida coach Paul Maurice said on Thursday afternoon after practice at the arena.
”He just didn’t get into the net and now we’re home for a month and we have these big block of days. Sergei plays a big hand in this because he’s played so well, it’s his ball.
“Spencer needs to get a bunch of reps here. He needs to get a bunch of pucks shot at him. So we have until the two four-game weeks we’ve got at the end of March when we’ll need two goaltenders to play. Leading into that, there’s a schedule that says ‘you’ve got a guy hot, run him’.”
This is not a new situation for Knight, who was sent to Charlotte last season after Bobrovsky hit a stride following the All-Star break.
He ended up using that trip to the AHL as a positive and turned things completely around. Upon returning from his North Carolina sojourn, Knight went 10-3-1 with a .921/2.23 and two shutouts.
Knight will be keeping the same mindset going into his latest run with the Checkers.
”That is in his memory bank,” Maurice said. ”He has had health issues that have kept him out of being able to perform and get into games so he’s got a positive idea of what this will look like. We are really hopeful that he can get down there and find that game.”
While Knight’s downfall from his 8-3-3 (.923/2.49) start to the season is concerning, the team is not overly worried for the long-term future of the 2019 first-round pick’s development.
”We’ve got a tremendous amount of faith in Spencer, his ability and what we’ve projected moving forward,’’ Maurice said. “In terms of our faith in Spencer, nothing has changed at all. As a matter of fact, we think he can go down there and get his game back and then some.”
PANTHERS ON DECK
BUFFALO SABRES AT FLORIDA PANTHERS
- When: Friday, 7 p.m.
- Where: FLA Live Arena, Sunrise
- TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida; ESPN+
- Radio: WPOW 96.5-FM2; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
- Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932
- Season Series (Florida leads 2-0): Panthers 4, Sabres 3 (Oct. 15); Panthers 4, Sabres 1 (Jan. 16)
- Last season: Florida won 3-0
- All-time regular season series: Florida leads 53-44-8, 4 ties
- Up Next for the Panthers: Feb. 28 at Tampa Bay, 7 p.m.