Quite a few aspects could be attributed to the Los Angeles Kings‘ success thus far but perhaps the most glaring is their goaltending. While it may not be altogether rare, Jonathan Quick‘s strong play in goal as of late has certainly been refreshing considering he already looks to be in playoff form. Even Jhonas Enroth, in his limited play as of late, has made the most of his playing time despite being on the short end of his last few decisions. Overall, though, both netminders have turned out to be quite the tandem as the Kings have entered the new year stronger than some may have anticipated.
From this writer’s vantage point, each start that Quick had in the last three weeks could have made one think that he could very likely get a shutout from his first save. On a sidenote, while he was talking about a no-hitter, the legendary Vin Scully said the same about watching Sandy Koufax. Quick getting a shutout wasn’t always the case, of course, but there was — nay, there is — something in the 29-year-old’s focus, in his movement, that would make even the most casual observers believe that the opposing team would be left beyond frustration by the time the final buzzer goes off.
Aside from one game, Quick had a December worth remembering as he went 10-2-0 with a 2.15 goals-against average and a .929 save percentage. He also racked up a pair of shutouts which now ties him for most in a career by a U.S.-born netminder. In fact, his recent play has just earned him the NHL‘s First Star of the Week honours.
I recently asked Kings’ goaltending coach Bill Ranford for his thoughts on Quick’s play lately.
“I have been very happy with both goalies,” Ranford said. “Quick had a very good post Christmas trip, keeping us in every game.”
Said Christmas trip saw Quick go 4-0 with an extraordinary save percentage of .951 while finishing with a GAA of a shade under 1.50. Of those four starts, two saw the 2012 Conn Smythe winner record a shutout one night and a 42-save performance another. Of course, as impressive as he was in goal for his club’s most recent road swing, it could be argued that Quick had plenty of offensive support, and that would be correct. In the latter three contests, the silver-and-black outscored their opponents by a 14-3 margin. But let’s consider the fact that for the vast majority of his time between the pipes over the last four-plus years, Jonathan Quick has not had as much offensive support from his team than most goaltenders. In fact, just this past Saturday, Quick had to hold down the fort to preserve a one-goal lead late in regulation against the Flyers. No. 32 was up to the task, making a slew of key saves late including flashing the leather on a save so breathtaking, it even left shooter Claude Giroux mesmerized.
As previously mentioned, Quick’s solid December did come with the exception of one game: Dec. 14 in Ottawa.
Against the Senators that night, Quick looked shaky as he allowed five goals on just 21 shots en route the Kings being defeated 5-3. The pressure was then on the netminder to rebound with a better performance. Quick did just that and then some as three nights later, he put on one of the best performances of his career, stopping all 45 saves to beat the Canadiens at a hostile Bell Centre. No matter how unrelenting the Montreal onslaught was, Quick had an answer every time.
I asked Bill Ranford what he thought Quick’s motivation was for his solid play as of late.
“I think Quick’s motivation is to get back in the playoffs,” said Ranford. “We as a team were very disappointed in last year’s finish, determined to reverse that this year. There are no easy games. Any extra points you can grab now will help down the stretch.”
And the Kings have had no difficulty in racking up those extra points. In fact, their 52 points this far has given them a fairly-comfortable 12-point lead in the Pacific Division. However, let’s not confuse comfort with complacency. The Kings do enter a month where they struggled last year, but more on that later.
As far as Jhonas Enroth goes, his play has been limited but he has made the most of his brief playing time. Despite losing his last three decisions, the veteran has backstopped the Kings to timely goaltending, like Quick, keeping his team in games until the very end. Unfortunately, that hasn’t always been the case.
In Enroth’s last game — Dec. 19 in Toronto — the Stockholm native was hung out to dry late as the Leafs routed Los Angeles by a 5-0 count, handing the Kings their worst defeat of the season.
“Enroth played very well in Buffalo and 50 minutes in Toronto,” Ranford said. “The last 10 minutes was tough but he will rebound in his next start. He is working hard in practice to get ready.”
Those last 10 minutes saw Enroth allow three goals on just five shots. It is notable to point out, however, that Enroth was a last-minute decision to start that night so perhaps not being quite as prepared as he normally would be played a factor. Nonetheless, you can be sure that the 27-year-old will come back hungrier than ever to get back in the win column.
While the Kings did start January off on the right foot, fans have no trouble remembering their team’s less-than-stellar showing 12 months earlier as the silver-and-black went 3-4-4. While on paper, they could have been much worse, the resurgence play of the Flames, Canucks and even the Winnipeg Jets left the Kings with a smaller margin for error. In the end, it resulted in a playoff miss for the silver-and-black, so, needless to say, the Kings need a much better January this time around to enter the final leg of the regular season the right way, even despite their lead.
For that to happen, though, they will need both of their netminders to be on top of their respective games. If the season thus far has been any indication, then there is no reason to worry. After all, with a clutch performer like Jonathan Quick and a reliable veteran like Jhonas Enroth, worrying is the least sensible thing to do in Los Angeles.