Los Angeles Kings regular season and playoff goaltending records have been under assault for the last three years as Jonathan Quick has emerged as not only one of his generation’s finest performers in net, but a 28-year-old who earlier this year emerged as the franchise’s all-time wins leader.
“Moving from one side to another, it’s just incredible how fast he is,” said Rogie Vachon, who won 171 games between 1971 and 1978, a mark that previously stood as the franchise’s all-time wins record.
“He saves a lot of goals that way, because the player all of a sudden, it’s a one-pass, a quick shot, and he’s right there. The player thinks he’s got an open net, and all of a sudden, bang! It’s not.”
Quick’s first National Hockey League cup of coffee came in the 2007-08 season. But it wasn’t until December, 2008, when he was a mid-season call-up over top prospect Jonathan Bernier, when the flashes of goaltending proficiency began to appear inside a crease that had been adeptly filled by Vachon in the 1970’s, and other than several hot streaks by Mario Lessard, Kelly Hrudey and Felix Potvin, had little in the way of any sustained success since.
Now, having posted a six-game winning streak for the third consecutive playoff run, he’s looking to add to the postseason records that began falling during the team’s Stanley Cup run. He has twice as many shutouts as any other Kings goaltender, is the franchise’s postseason wins leader, and following his 36-save performance in Game 2 against Anaheim, has now stopped more shots in Stanley Cup Playoffs hockey than any other goaltender in franchise history.
“The best player on the ice tonight was the goaltender for the Kings,” Darryl Sutter said after Quick’s Game 2 performance.
The base for the 176 regular season wins and 35-and-growing postseason wins began when he raised some eyebrows during his first full professional season in 2008-09.
After six career starts, Quick had posted shutouts over the Columbus Blue Jackets and Phoenix Coyotes. By the end of his rookie season, his 2.48 goals-against average was the fifth-lowest single season mark in franchise history, and only the third time someone with as many as 44 games played posted a goals-against average under 2.50.
But even when he was constructing among the finest back-to-back goaltending campaigns in club history in 2008-09 and 2009-10, it was assumed that he was simply keeping the seat warm for Bernier, a much more widely known commodity who was selected in the first round in 2006 and was also posting fine numbers at AHL-Manchester.
But it was Quick who appeared in a franchise record 72 games in 2009-10, and it was Quick who started all six games against the Vancouver Canucks in the team’s first playoff series in eight seasons.
“He’s always been solid,” Anze Kopitar said. “I think once it was his turn to, I guess, emerge and step up - he did it. He always had the right mindset. He always works hard. I guess when it was time to shine, he stepped up and he showed everybody that he’s definitely a number-one on this team and he’s been proving it for three years now, and proving it with an exclamation point. It’s not like he’s been shaky at all. He’s been strong. He’s been giving us a chance every night and that’s obviously great to see.”
He has also repeatedly given the team a chance to win on any given night and has saved his best hockey for when the team has needed him the most. Since falling into the dreaded three-nothing rut against San Jose, Quick backstopped the team to six straight wins by posting a 1.29 goals-against average and .961 save percentage.
Despite the sharp turnaround the postseason, the approach has remained steady, as have the expectations within the team’s facility for as long as Quick has been a member of the team.
“We’ve always had expectations of winning a Cup every year, so nothing has changed inside the locker room,” Quick said. “It’s now people outside the locker room that see we have a good team now and now their expectations are up there.”
That expectation was realized with a Stanley Cup in 2012, a crowning achievement by a franchise that relied on a goaltender who that year had bested Vachon’s franchise-record shutout streak of 184 minutes and 55 seconds with a 202-minute, 11-second streak of his own, and surpassed Vachon’s eight shutouts from 1976-77 with an astounding 10.
That’s fine with Vachon, whose individual franchise wins mark fell in March.
“Let’s put it this way – it’s not going to be the last record that he’s going to break if he stays healthy and plays another six, seven [years]. He’s going to put up some really good numbers.”
Vachon suffered a knee injury in his first season with the Kings that limited him to just 28 games. He also didn’t rely on the opportunity to earn additional wins by virtue of overtime or a shootout.
Still, there exists the desire to have broadened his own goaltending numbers.
“I wish I could have played five or six more years to put up some better numbers for other goalies to come and get them,” he said. “But you’ve got to give him credit. That kid is very consistent. He plays very solid, is a great citizen, and I’m very happy for him.”
“We had a different style in my days. It was more like stay up and challenge and that kind of stuff. When we started playing against the Russians, they started bringing the game instead of wingers staying on their wings and shooting, the game is going sideways now. It started with the Russians, and we had to keep up with that, and now every team is doing the same things, and the goalies seem to be much bigger now, and don’t forget they have such incredible equipment. They play the angles, they just stand there, and challenge the players to hit them or hit the holes, and it seems to work with most of the goalies. But in my days, it was more like track the puck and find it and kick it out. Now they swallow the puck all the time with their bodies. It’s a completely different game.”
The Kings had laid the foundation for future success when Quick was in the early stages of his career, though when Vachon first joined Los Angeles five years into the team’s existence, there was little in the way of team identity – let alone the type of defense that Quick has worked with for much of his tenure.
“When I first came in in ’71, the Kings were just a terrible team. We were almost out of the playoffs by Christmas time,” Vachon said. “So me, coming from the Montreal Canadiens – and we won three Cups in four years while I was there – it really was a culture shock when I came in. But we had a bad team for a couple years.
“Then, when Bob Pulford came in, that was the coach, he installed a nice system and everybody bought in to that system, and then we became a very decent team, and it was a lot more fun to play behind these guys, because the first two years, they were pretty bad.”
The current system the Kings use is reliant on a standout goaltender, and Quick has been exactly that. He has been the Kings’ margin of victory against the Ducks, and after the team won Game 2 in Anaheim, Dustin Brown was able to accentuate what the netminder in his prime has meant to the team in the series.
“They definitely had the better of the changes,” Los Angeles’ captain said. “Fortunately we had Jon Quick in our goal. He makes big saves for us at key times and allows us to kind of squeak one out at the end of the day.”
Other than some games stolen here and there by Felix Potvin, there hasn’t been that consistent ability by Kings goaltenders to steal games with regularity between Vachon and Quick’s eras.
Quick actually appeared in more games with ECHL-Reading than AHL-Manchester during his first taste of professional hockey between 2007 and the middle of 2008. By the time he joined the Kings for good midway through the 2008-09 season, there was confidence in his ability that grew with every start.
Kopitar, who noted that he’s “extremely proud” of Quick’s success in capturing many of the teams goaltending records, articulated the ascendency by the franchise netminder.
“We definitely wouldn’t be to this stage where we’re at without him.”
And that’s something that makes the previous all-time franchise wins holder proud.
“Jonathan is playing great, and I’m very happy for the Kings,” Vachon said.
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