After consecutive quality outings, could Panthers’ Knight be seeing the start of a turnaround?

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Spencer Knight knows it can be easy to get caught up in the numbers, the moment, the expectations.

He tries to block that out and stay as stoic as he can — avoid getting overconfident when things are going right, avoid wallowing for too long when things are going wrong.

And it seems like there has been more of the latter this season. The Florida Panthers’ ballyhooed 20-year-old rookie goaltender has gone through his share of rough patches this year.

Six games (including five starts) in which he gave up at least four goals. Irregular playing time due to the re-emergence of Sergei Bobrovsky. A temporary demotion to the Panthers’ American Hockey League affiliate to reset. A bout with COVID-19 shortly after returning to the NHL that kept him out of the lineup for nearly three weeks.

For Knight, each of those instances are in the past. The focus immediately shifts to the next opportunity.

“I think that’s just part of the position,” Knight said. “You learn to not really get too caught up with when you’re playing or what game you’re playing or all that stuff. You just have to show up and play. That’s what works for me.”

The mentality is working as of late. Knight has shown a return to form over his last two games — a shootout win over the Vancouver Canucks on Jan. 21 and Thursday’s 4-1 win over the Vegas Golden Knights.

Knight made saves on 51 of 53 shots on goal — a .962 save percentage — and stopped 13 of 14 high-danger scoring chances. He also did not give up a goal after the first period in either of those games.

Florida Panthers players Anton Lundell (15) and Spencer Knight (30) celebrate their 4-1 win over the Vegas Golden Knights during an NHL game at the FLA Live Arena on Thursday, January 27, 2022 in Sunrise, Fl.
Florida Panthers players Anton Lundell (15) and Spencer Knight (30) celebrate their 4-1 win over the Vegas Golden Knights during an NHL game at the FLA Live Arena on Thursday, January 27, 2022 in Sunrise, Fl.

It was the first time in his NHL career that Knight has gone consecutive starts giving up no more than one goal in each.

And, maybe, it’s the turning point he needs to get his season back on track.

“Really, really solid,” Panthers interim coach Andrew Brunette said postgame Thursday. “He looked like the Spencer we see most of the time. ... He went through COVID and had a couple of games that we hung him out to dry a little bit, but [Thursday against Vegas] and the same with Vancouver, he looked very solid, very sound, very quiet.

“It was fun to see him have success.”

But if it is the start of a turnaround, the next steps will be back in the American Hockey League. The Panthers on Friday announced that Knight has been loaned to the Charlotte Checkers, the team’s AHL affiliate, along with taxi squad members Aleksi Heponiemi and Matt Kiersted. Chase Priskie, who was on the active roster, was also moved down to the taxi squad.

The movement is likely due to a roster crunch, freeing up space for forward Patric Hornqvist and defenseman Olli Juolevi to rejoin the team when they come off injured reserve potentially as early as Saturday when the Panthers host the San Jose Sharks.

Florida Panthers goaltender Spencer Knight (30) blocks a shot during the second period of an NHL game against the Vegas Golden Knights at the FLA Live Arena on Thursday, January 27, 2022 in Sunrise, Fl.
Florida Panthers goaltender Spencer Knight (30) blocks a shot during the second period of an NHL game against the Vegas Golden Knights at the FLA Live Arena on Thursday, January 27, 2022 in Sunrise, Fl.

Regardless, Knight’s last two starts were needed highlight moments especially when success has eluded him so often while he was shrouded with external hype entering the season.

Knight flashed signs of dominance during his first stint in the NHL last season. He went undefeated in four regular-season appearances (three starts, one in relief), posting a .919 save percentage and 2.32 goals against average. He took it up a notch in the playoffs, holding the Tampa Bay Lightning to one goal on 37 shot attempts in Game 5 of their first-round matchup. He was back in net two days later and gave up three goals on 23 shots in Florida’s season-ending loss.

Knight went into the offseason primed for an extended opportunity in the 2021-2022 season and not just to make the roster. He had a chance to push Bobrovsky for the Panthers’ starting job — a notion that felt plausible with Bobrovsky’s struggles during his first two years in the organization and Knight’s ascending trajectory.

Is it time for concern about Spencer Knight? ‘We’re not worried about him,’ Panthers say

Since then, Bobrovsky has put together his best season to date in Florida (21-4-3 record, .922 save percentage and 2.46 goals against average) and has firmly established himself as the Panthers’ top goaltender. Knight has been inconsistent — sometimes his own doing, sometimes factored in by the defense in front of him.

The opportunities are still coming for Knight, even if they aren’t as frequent as anticipated.

And Knight’s goal remains the same: Be prepared whenever that opportunity arises.

“I just want to play,” Knight said, “and that’s the fun thing. Sometimes you go 10 days. Sometimes it can be three days or two days and sometimes two weeks. It just is what it is. It’s just reminding yourself that every day is just trying to have some fun and work hard.”

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