Quick–Name the Kings’ Starting Goalie…

Quick—name the LA Kings’ starting netminder. Jonathan, Jonathan something, right?

Those of you on the East Coast may not give this much consideration, but out west, there have been mumblings for a couple of years about who would be the heir apparent to the pipes so well guarded in the distant past by Rogie Vachon, and so oddly guarded in the more recent past by Roman Czechmanek.

So to start the season, what did Coach Terry Murray do? He put Rogie back in net. Or at least, a simulacrum of Rogie.

Figure it like this: the Kings were on the road to play Vancouver in a game that would mark the 40th anniversary of the founding of the Canadian team. Each team was in a throwback uniform resembling the ones they would have worn in the fall of 1970. And the LA goaltender took it a step further by using old-style pads and a mask that looked like Rogie’s did, including painted-on ears.

That’s because in the past, the mask fit only on the front of the face, not like a helmet as it does nowadays. The goaltender’s ears were exposed, and his hair stuck out under the straps, both effects simulated in paint on the mask in question.

And the old-school pads? Those would have been leather, stuffed with horsehair and trimmed out with felt. Very heavy, especially the wetter they got as the game went on. The ones the goalie wore were not made of those materials, but made to resemble them. They were still constructed of today’s lightweight synthetics.

Who is that goalie you ask? Jonathan Quick, he of the full splits and the 72 appearances last season (plus Olympics, plus playoffs).

Is it any wonder that near the end of the season, Quick appeared slow, or at least, sluggish? In the playoffs, he was good, but not good enough, and he and the team went down to Vancouver 4-2.

Little wonder, then, that having played four games in this new season, the team is 3-1, and 2-0 against those same Canucks, behind Quick.

Quick, for his part, has not lost a game in the new campaign, and has now beaten his nemesis twice—enough games to make the two teams four and four over the past eight since the start of the post-season.

The one the team has dropped during this regular season, to Calgary, the other heir apparent, also a Jonathan (Bernier), was in net. Some said before the season began that this was his year. After all, in his three appearances in NHL games last season, he was 3-0 with a 1.30GAA and a .957 save percentage. Pretty nice numbers.

Maybe it was going to be Bernier’s time, in the mind of the coaches, before the year began. But Quick put a stop to that when he came into camp ready to go. He was lighter—fifteen pounds by some accounts. His official stats height and weight have him at over six feet and 223 pounds last year. It’s hardly likely that that’s what he weighed, even at his heaviest, but this year he arrived for camp lean, and it translates into hunger. He wants to play, to prove that last year, getting tired at the end blunted his edge, but that he’s better than that.

What he hasn’t changed is his flexibility. I asked him about it in the past and got a kind of “aw shucks” answer, that it’s just natural, and not something that he had to work on. But there’s no way—though his naturally quiet nature and modesty make him unable to claim credit for his athleticism, the guy is flexible like a gymnast.

Quick is like a martial artist who can kick above his own head. The legs just go out to the sides, then go further, then a little further, until you almost feel the stretch in your own inner thighs. Ouch! But it’s not a problem for him, and as the puck carrier takes one across the goalmouth from right to left, there’s Quick, legs seeming to get longer by the minute, pads flat on the ground, covering the bottom of the net. It’s a minor miracle to see, but he pulls it off two or three times a game.

The other goalie, Bernier, doesn’t have the same ability. Not to say he’s not good. Many pegged him, as early as last year, as the starter for the 2010-11 campaign.

“They’re just giving him a year of seasoning in the AHL,” the line went, “But he’s the guy next [this] year.”

Only Quick had other plans.

Coming out of camp, Murray made it unequivocal—Quick would be named the starter. There was no controversy, no matter how much the press corps wanted there to be.

Quick had a good hard year under his belt, and there was not to be a question, plus, he’d earned it. Just look at him, the logic went. The only trouble was, everyone (or at least a few vocal ones) believed that while Quick had talent, Bernier had a gift, and it was only going to be a matter of time until that would prevail. Thus far, it hasn’t had a chance to. Murray hasn’t flinched in going with his guy.

That Calgary game, understand, wasn’t a sign of a change of heart. It was the second of a back-to-back, and while nobody on the team, least of all Murray, would have said it, of course, everyone probably figured the Flames for a throwaway team.

So if you’re starting one goalie, but you want to avoid your mistake of last year of overplaying him, why not give the other fellow a chance? Especially if that guy is the one who is supposed to take the franchise into the future.

At least on that day, it didn’t work out quite so wonderfully. He’s not to blame, Bernier, for the lack of goal support. The Kings only once that day.

But if there was one thing noticeable about his game, it was that he is more technical than athletic. Having gotten used to Quick’s cat-like moves, it’s hard to see Bernier with quite the shine on him that he might have had last year. He plays the percentages. He is schooled, and he’s technically perfect. And in the long run, that might make him the better goalie. It doesn’t make him the more exciting one.

So it’s Quick, and Friday night, he did it again, beating Roberto Luongo and company 4-1. Quick made 25 saves inthe contest, while the Luongo only made 15 (Yup, Mr. Olympics gave up four on fewer than 20 shots.) Along the way, Quick was solid. He didn’t make any spectacular saves, but made many very good ones, on shots that came from high and low, and a bunch in close.

Quick was named first star of the game, this for the third time this year. His numbers as of midnight Friday night show him on top of the league, with a GAA of 0.97 and a save percentage of .963. Of course it’s early, and averages tend to, well, average out over time.

Maybe he’s getting better defensive support than the other netminders in the league, or there haven’t been the unlucky bounces. Maybe, but more likely this is a guy who is bearing down because he just doesn’t go for the common left coast wisdom that has him as a placeholder while Bernier gets ready to take to the Kings’ crease as the goalie of the next ten years.

Lucky you, if he keeps up this pace, because the team will be out East in November. If you get to see him, keep your eyes open for the splits—and try not to wince, because it’s not you who is doing them, it’s Jonathan. Quick.

Notes

Wonder what happened to Rogie’s true, old-school pads? He told Brian, and the story is in Living the Hockey Dream, available at amazon.com.

Kings rookie Brayden Schenn is seeing his ice time erode. Friday night, it was just seven minutes, with four coming in period one. His linemates didn’t get much either, with Brad Richardson netting seven and Kevin Westgarth about two.

The fighting Friday night was done by Wayne Simmonds, who took on Vancouver’s Andrew Alberts in what was more a Jiu Jitsu match than a punch-up.

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