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PATIENCE PAYS OFF FOR LABARBERA

Tuesday, 10.30.2007 / 4:46 PM / Features
By Thomas LaRocca  - LAKings.com Staff Writer
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PATIENCE PAYS OFF FOR LABARBERA
From an early age, goaltenders are taught to be patient and remain on their feet as long as possible because if a goaltender leaves their feet too early, pucks go over them or around them and into the net.

So obviously, patience is an outstanding virtue for a goaltender to have.

Kings netminder Jason LaBarbera seems to have mastered this virtue both on and off the ice.

After spending the 2005-06 season with the Kings posting an 11-9-2 record, 2.90 goals against average, a .900 save percentage and his first NHL shutout in his final game of the season (April 17, 2006, 4-0 W at San Jose), LaBarbera was the odd man out with Dan Cloutier and Mathieu Garon slated to man the pipes for Los Angeles in 2006-07.

Assigned to Manchester, the Kings primary affiliate in the American Hockey League, LaBarbera would have to wait for his chance to play again for the Kings.

But after Garon and Cloutier suffered injuries, a revolving door of Barry Brust, Yutaka Fukufuji and finally Sean Burke, struggled for the Kings in net in 2006-07.

All the while, LaBarbera was posting MVP-like numbers in the AHL, only he was unable to be recalled due to the fact that he would have to pass through waivers in order to be recalled to LA and would almost certainly be claimed by another team.

So again, LaBarbera would have to wait for his chance to play for the Kings.

Rather than be frustrated with his plight, the 27-year-old goaltender used his frustration as motivation and was named the winner of the Aldege “Baz” Bastien Memorial Award, awarded to the most outstanding goaltender in the American Hockey League and named a First Team AHL All-Star after posting a record of 39-20-1, with seven shutouts, a goals-against-average of 2.21 and a save-percentage of .933 in 62 regular season games with Manchester.

“There was nothing I could do about it,” LaBarbera said. “You play to play in the NHL, that is everybody’s goal. I understood the situation, the only thing I could do was play harder and work on my game.”

Enter 2007-08.

LaBarbera’s chance had finally arrived at training camp…only the spotlight was stolen by Kings uber prospect Jonathan Bernier, who earned the opening night start for the Kings in London, England.

Bernier was solid in net in the Kings 4-1 victory over Anaheim in the season opener, stopping 26-of-27 shots.

In fact, Bernier played so well, he started four of the first six games, with LaBarbera starting the remaining two games, losing 4-1 to Anaheim on Sept. 30 and 5-1 to Dallas on Oct. 10.

It appeared that once again, LaBarbera would have to wait for his chance to be the No. 1 goaltender in Los Angeles.

Then on Oct. 15 with the team at 1-5 on the young season, Bernier was returned to his junior team in Lewiston of the QMJHL and this summer’s free agent acquisition J-S Aubin was cleared to play after starting the season on the IR.

Aubin got the start in on Oct. 16, looking to snap a five-game skid, and helped the Kings to 4-3 victory over Minnesota, stoning all three Wild shooters in the shootout.

Aubin’s performance vs. the Wild earned him the start the following game at Calgary, only Aubin was pulled at second intermission in favor or LaBarbera with the Kings down 4-2.

Something clicked for LaBarbera during that relief stint.

LaBarbera stopped all 11 shots he faced in the third period vs. Calgary and since then, has been lights out posting four straight victories while stopping 117-of-121 shots (.967 SV%).

“This is something our team has been waiting for, for a long time,” Head coach Marc Crawford said. “He is very popular with our guys because of his work ethic. It is nice he is building some chemistry with our group. When you get that element of your game, which is so, so important, it is really gratifying to all of the other aspects of your game.

“Getting goaltending like what Jason is giving us, it gives us an opportunity every night.”

LaBarbera on Monday was named the NHL’s first star of the week.

His week looked like this: 3-0-0 record, 0.67 goals-against average, .976 save percentage and one shutout as the Kings won three consecutive home games.

“Anytime you win any kind of award it is exciting,” LaBarbera said. “It reflects on you as an individual but it reflects on the whole team. Individual awards are exciting and great to have on your resume, but the main thing is winning hockey games.”

For the season, LaBarbera has posted a record of 4-2-0 with a 2.06 goals-against average, .925 save percentage and one shutout.

It appears that LaBarbera’s wait is finally over.