TORONTO – Jose Theodore probably won’t win another MVP award, but he’s giving the Florida Panthers exactly what they need right now.
The 35-year-old goaltender, who captured the Hart Trophy with the Montreal Canadiens in 2002, was part of Florida’s free-agent frenzy as the Panthers signed a dozen NHL veterans in a drastic roster overhaul.
Florida hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2000, the longest active drought in the league, and the team added the likes of Brian Campbell, Ed Jovanovski, Kris Versteeg and Tomas Fleischmann as well as several others in the hopes of finally returning to the post-season.
Theodore, signed to a two-year deal to platoon with Scott Clemmensen, was part of the influx. He quickly got a chance to take over the crease when Clemmensen missed the first month of the season after undergoing minor knee surgery in September.
Clemmensen backed up Theodore on Tuesday night as Florida defeated the host Toronto Maple Leafs 5-1.
“He’s very calm and playing a solid game right now and in this league that’s what you need to be,” Clemmensen said. “That’s what he’s given the team so far.”
Theodore stopped 38-of-39 shots against the Leafs to improve to 5-2-2 on the season.
“We’ve just showed that we play hard every night, and that’s the key,” Theodore said. “Every time we’re out there, we don’t float around, we play hard, we play intense, and that’s winning us some games right now.
“The good thing about this team is we have the character to get over tough losses and just bounce back, and that’s what we did tonight.”
For Theodore, the Panthers represent a chance to bounce back. He’s never been able to live up to that breakout 2001-02 season, battling through poor play, injuries and a range of personal issues.
No one expects him to repeat his past glory in Florida, but he does have an opportunity. The Panthers are his fifth NHL team—he went from Montreal to the Colorado Avalanche in 2006, then to the Washington Capitals in 2008 and to the Minnesota Wild as a backup last season—and perhaps his last chance to re-establish himself as a bona fide NHL starter.
He hasn’t disappointed, posting a 2.43 goals-against average and .922 save percentage.
“We’re going to rely heavily on our goalies,” said Panthers coach Kevin Dineen, who lauded Theodore’s play in the second period when Florida was outshot 18-8 but outscored Toronto 2-1. “That’s our game, we need good goaltending.”
So far, Theodore has been better than that.