Quick Returns to Win

“The Sox traded Bullfrog,” Ralph Parker’s father says as he reads his morning paper. “The only player they got for Schottenheimer, four eyes Schottenheimer,” he exclaims.

“That’s nice, dear,” his wife says. (This is not real. It’s A Christmas Story, the movie.)

Ralphie, meanwhile, sits at his breakfast and tries to think of the best hint to ensure that his is given a BB gun for Christmas.

In other words, nobody cares a whit about that trade. Same thing happened with the LA Kings this week. They dealt Daniel Carcillo, he of the 26-game, 57-PIM record for LA this year, to the Rangers for a seventh-round draft pick to be used this spring. In his career, the player has about three penalty minutes for every game he plays. That means, obviously, lots of fights. He had contributed a goal and an assist to the team aside from his tough-guy persona this year.

The main thing that matters right now in Los Angeles is what’s going on with the goalies. Martin Jones, the phenom who took to the nets in December and compiled an 8-2 record, was named NHL Co-Rookie of the month, an award he shared with Aanti Raanta of Chicago. During the Christmas month, aside from his win total, the netminder for LA put together back-to-back shutouts versus the Islanders and the Habs. He got three shutouts in total. He won his first eight games, and is only the second goalie in league history to do that. The other? Bob Froese.

The real news, of course, is that the Kings finally got their number one goalie back Saturday evening with Vancouver in town. Jonathan Quick had been out since getting hurt in Buffalo in the early days of November. He missed, officially, 24 games, a third of what have been missed by the entire team this year so far (78 days of IR officially recorded coming into Saturday night).

The record Quick had posted before his injury was 10-5, and he had a shutout. His numbers looked like this: 2.35 GAA and .905 save percentage. In his absence, both Ben Scrivens and the aforementioned Jones had stepped up. Scrivens came into the game in Buffalo and covered the last minute of OT. He faced no shots. Scrivens, nicknamed “The Professor” by his teammates, then played a string of ten games, during which time he posted just one loss and went to OT three times. The first four of his games were wins. In 19 games this season, he has a 7-5-4 record with three shutouts. His 1.97 GAA and .931 save percentage have been impressive.

So with Jones and Scrivens keeping the opposition off the board, why go back to Quick? Well, he took the team to the Stanley Cup, of course. The players know he is the team’s long-term starter, for seconds. And because the team has lost five games in a row dating back to December 23rd versus the Stars at home.

Further, they have let in five goals twice during that span, in the first of those losses, 5-2, and the most recent one, against St. Louis, which they went down to defeat against by a 5-0 score on Thursday evening in Missouri.

Speaking of that game, the goaltending was not exactly sterling, with both Jones and Scrivens having a part in the loss. The former started the game, but he was pulled after 32 minutes when he let in his second goal on 14 shots. Scrivens came in and let one in on the first shot he faced, and he ended up giving up three in twelve shots on the night. After the game, Coach Sutter was mildly critical of Jones’s performance, but observers commented in press reports following the game that the chance of netminders did little to spark the team, if that had beren the idea in the first place.

Sutter didn’t comment to the effect that this was his idea. But then again, he’s not that kind of coach. More a technical type who believes that you win not because of being motivated, but because you execute.

Makes the decision to put Quick back in pretty easy, eh? The goalie, further, had been with the team on their recent four-game road trip, and he had been practicing with absolutely no problems and no trace of groin pain. After his return against the Canucks, he said very simply, “It’s good. We got a win,” then elaborated on his own comeback. “He [Sutter] asked me if I felt ready to go, I said yes, and he said OK.”

“When I said I was ready, that meant I was ready to do it,” he said. “You don’t come in feeling eighty percent. If that was the case, I wouldn’t have sat out for two months. It’s all 100 percent.” He later said, “I’ve had two months’ rest. I’m f*&%ing rested,” then laughed.

“The team played great in front of me. I had a few rebounds that got away in front of me and guys cleared them out.” This included one on a play in the last half-minute, with Daniel Sedin taking a pass from Henrik. He took a shot, then tried for the rebound, putting one back into Quick. Had he gone from forehand to backhand, he probably could have been past the goalie with the puck. “Somebody made a good pass. He was driving the net, and he just kind of poked it. He got a rebound attempt too. You control that first one and there’s no second one. I’ll clean that up,” was Quick’s assessment.

In fact, he didn’t look quite like himself early. That is not to say he was ineffective, but early on, rather than doing a full splits in making a save, he had his left leg extended, but his right one was in a knee-down position. It was almost like he was being overly careful, with his body, his positioning.

He seemed to be over-playing the technical side of the game, thinking through the positioning on every save. By the second period, that was gone, and he made some of his more characteristic moves, including a split with the glove held high out front of him on a failed attempt to stop Vancouver’s first goal, about which more elsewhere in this story.

At his best, Quick is a pure athlete in net, not a technical marvel like many of today’s goaltenders. He stops the puck because he can get where it is from where he is, no matter where that is. As he relaxed, that’s the goalie who emerged from the two month layoff.

Naturally, his coach was quite happy with how he did. “He was sharp,” Sutter said.

Interesting is that as late at Friday, there was talk that Quick might take part in an Ontario Reign game on the weekend. In fact, plans had been in place to send him East to Manchester to play in a couple of games with the AHL Monarchs, but the winter storms on that side of the country obviated the plan by making it impossible for him to travel there following the team’s loss to St. Louis. Sutter said that he was happy that this is how things worked out. “I wasn’t crazy about it because he was going to have to fly all day Monday,” the coach said, “to play Tuesday. I really didn’t like that. Once he got weathered out, I just talked to him after St. Louis, and . . . he was ready to play.”

He was in fact not listed on the early day roster of the Kings. But he took warmup and was in net to start the game, making Martin Jones a scratch. He was on an emergency recall and can be reassigned to Manchester without having to clear waivers. This was also necessary to open up a roster spot for Quick. Scrivens backed up on the evening. When Quick was announced, the crowd cheered like they have not, perhaps, since the time when they saw the Cup come onto the Staples Center ice eighteen months ago.

The Kings have not lost five in a row for two years, dating back to December of 2011. Their coach then? Terry Murray, and the streak ended his tenure with the club.

Trying to figure out reasons why the Kings have been doing poorly of late? Try this: they were second in the league in penalty minutes taken coming into Saturday night. The worst offenders in the NHL are the Senators, who had been shorthanded 171 times, but the LA team had given up 166 extra-man opportunities coming into the evening. For contrast, consider that the middling to weaker teams in the league tend to lead in this category, notably the Flyers and the Jets. On the other hand, the Red Wings didn’t trail the Kings by all that many chances, having given up 156 coming into Saturday evening.

Still, quickly scanning the list of how many times teams have been penalized reveals that the Kings are about 15 chances ahead of (or behind, if you want to look at it that way) the league average.

On Saturday, they swiftly added two to that number, both penalties by Jeff Carter. One was on a backcheck, and the next behind Vancouver’s net. The first was a slash, and the second a cross-check. The second came after Kevin Bieksa mugged him and pulled off his helmet. It was retaliatory, and unnecessary,

The first one resulted in the Canucks getting their first goal. Quick had no chance as a shot went wide to his right. Daniel Sedin picked it up off the boards and sent it wide side to Kesler, who shot back across the grain once more and up high. Quick came over to his left and dove out with his chest, but the puck went over his up-stretched glove and into the cage. Carter took another during the same frame.

But whatever damage he did by taking the penalties he erased late in the game. The Kings had tied the contest early in period three after dominating the shots over the first two frames. Then, with less than half the period remaining, Carter chipped a puck out of his zone. Dwight King followed it into the Vancouver end, fought off a check, and delivered the puck to Carter. He was deep in the slot by this point, and he flicked it with a wrister that went up and over the shoulder of Luongo. He added an empty net goal with ten seconds to go in what was a 3-1 LA victory. The Kings had 49 shots, the Canucks 28.

Notes

Bob Froese, formerly of the Flyers, is mentioned in the above story. He now has an earned PhD and is a pastor in New York state. I interviewed him recently for a new book I’m working on. Details on that to follow.

Quick found out this past week that he would be a part of the US Olympic team. For those of you not boycotting the games over Russian social policy, you’ll see him in his second Olympics.

You cold-weather people are playing hockey outside these days, right? Well, my novel, Pond Hockey, captures the spirit of that outdoor game. Please spend your Christmas money on a copy.

The Kings now host four more games at home, including Tuesday against Minnesota.

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