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Roberto Luongo injury could be the final blow to Panthers’ disastrous season

Florida doesn’t seem equipped to handle weeks without its starting goaltender.

Florida Panthers v New Jersey Devils Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Nothing has gone according to plan for the Florida Panthers this season, and now that includes the health of starting goalie Roberto Luongo, who will be “out for a while” due to a lower-body injury. Florida coach Bob Boughner revealed the news Wednesday, according to the Sun-Sentinel’s Matthew DeFranks.

“Whether that’s three weeks, four weeks, five weeks, we’re going to see how his rehab goes, that kind of thing,” Boughner said. “Definitely out for a while.”

This is a loss that the Panthers could ill afford as they’ve tried to shake off a disappointing 10-13-4 start to the season. The team is 20th in goals for, 27th in goals against, 20th in 5-on-5 Corsi, 26th on the power play, and 29th on the penalty kill. In just about every measure, this has been a bad team.

Now staring at a month or more without its top netminder, Florida may be running out of time to turn things around and make a playoff push.

Luongo has been a bright spot

You’d think a team that’s 27th in goals allowed would be getting disastrous goaltending, but Luongo has been very good this season. Among goaltenders to play at least 500 minutes, he’s fifth in save percentage (.928) and 11th in Goals Saved Above Average (+7.9), which accounts for shot volume and location.

Without him, the Panthers don’t have many good options. Backup James Reimer has had success in the past but posted a .892 save percentage in 14 games this season. The team’s waiver claim of Antti Niemi went poorly enough that he was quickly waived again (and somehow scooped up by another team with goalie issues).

Florida, for much of this season, has been a struggling team propped up by the play of its 38-year-old goaltender. Now he’s hurt — a thing that happens to 38-year-old goaltenders — and there’s a good chance the Panthers are straight up exposed as the underwhelming team they are.

Time isn’t on their side

Any team can weather a bad stretch over an 82-game season, and the Panthers may reasonably expect to have Luongo back in the lineup by the end of January given the current timetable.

But the problem for Florida is that it needs to do more than just hold the fort without its starting netminder. The Panthers need to start making up ground in an Atlantic Division where they’re in seventh place. This is a team playing at a roughly 72-73 point pace over 82 games, which would manage to make last year’s disappointing 81-point effort look like an improvement.

And remember, they’ve played at that pace while having Luongo play very good hockey in more than half of their games. The bottom could really fall out if the team or Reimer doesn’t step up in Luongo’s absence.

This surely isn’t what the Panthers envisioned when they turned the ship back over to GM Dale Tallon over the summer. Remember, he gave up five (Jonathan Marchessault, Reilly Smith, Jaromir Jagr, Jussi Jokinen, and Jason Demers) of the team’s top eight point producers from last season as part of an overhaul to move away from the work of the previous, analytics-focused front office.

That’s proven to be a disaster, and now Luongo’s injury might be the final nail in Florida’s coffin.