By Kevin Woodley - NHL.com Correspondent
When Jonathan Quick first came to the Los Angeles Kings, there were elements of Martin Brodeur in his game.
Quick survived -- often thrived -- on natural instincts and incredible athleticism in the beginning, reading and reacting as the game unfolded in front of him without a lot of the structure typically associated with the modern butterfly goaltender.
The New Jersey Devils legend has built a first-ballot Hall-of-Fame career by bucking the butterfly trend that dominated his position, piling up NHL records that may never be broken by deploying two-pad stacks, headfirst dives, and an ability to read the play that may also never be seen again.
There are still signs of Brodeur's unique approach in Quick – after all, his playoff highlight reel includes a pad-stack sequence against Phoenix in the Western Conference Finals. And there remain other similarities, including their shared strong skating ability, intense battle level in a scramble, and a willingness to throw technique out and do whatever it takes to stop the puck.
But as the two face off for the Stanley Cup, don't expect to see a reliance on the raw athleticism as often from Quick -- at least not if things are going well.
Tops on the list of strides Quick has made in the evolution from the ECHL to a Vezina Trophy finalist and Conn Smythe candidate this season, is putting himself in position to rely less often on those spectacular athletic stops and his Gumby-like leg flexibility.
"That's probably what we've worked on the most is just the consistency of his game and utilizing the athleticism as a tool in the toolbox and not it being the entire toolbox," Kings' goaltending coach Bill Ranford told NHL.com. "Five years ago, when he turned pro, athleticism was his toolbox and he relied on it heavily. And now it's more about having a technical structure to his game and then when need be, if you have to make that athletic save, it is there."
For Quick, that "athletic save" often involves the splits, and an incredible flexibility and core strength that allows him to add vertical coverage by reaching his hands out over top of those outstretched pads. But he counted on it too often early on in his career, and it was the Kings' desire to reduce that reliance that began Quick's evolution away from Brodeur's style, a change best exemplified in the way each goalie now moves after saves that drop them to their knees.
Yes, old-school Brodeur still makes some saves using the butterfly -- dropping to the knees, with the legs splayed to the side -- but he has resisted the post-save movements commonly associated with it.
Brodeur prefers to recover to his skates before moving laterally rather than pushing across the ice on his knees in a "butterfly slide." And Brodeur sometimes gets up on the "wrong leg" by modern standards – if a goalie needs to move to their left it makes sense to get up with the right leg first since this is the skate they must push off to move left (and vice-versa) – forcing him to dive instead of push across.
Quick would also get up off the wrong leg at times when he first arrived at a Los Angeles development camp, forcing him to scramble on instinct. Today there's arguably no goalie better at moving laterally from his knees, allowing Quick to play more aggressively and still propel himself back across the crease without needing to first recover up to his skates.
It's become a defining characteristic fitting of Quick's last name -- and perhaps the biggest difference from Brodeur.
You'll see it on plays behind the net, with Brodeur keeping both pads stacked vertically against the post as long as he can, while Quick often drops to his knees early, a tactic more and more goalies, including Boston's Tim Thomas, are using.
Quick is still reacting. He just does more of it from his knees, and, in the eyes of most coaches, more efficiently.
"From a technical standpoint he was really raw," Ranford said of those early years.
The Kings' coach, who played a style similar to Brodeur, agreed later, in an email on the eve of the Cup Final, that it was fair to compare Quick back then to Brodeur. But Ranford also quickly made it clear that isn't a bad thing. It is part of what makes Brodeur so special, that ability to anticipate a play – some of it innate, some developed through years of studying video – and then react to make the stop.
Where Brodeur differs from most goaltenders in today's NHL is his save selection. He does not simply default to the butterfly and his knees every time.
Brodeur, whose tall, narrow stance is in stark contrast to Quick's low-and-wide approach, is more likely than most to make a save from his skates. He maintains the edges he relies on to move around using short T-pushes for as long as he can, dipping but not dropping, and then popping back up even as he makes a glove stop. Or he'll use a half-butterfly, dropping only one leg to the ice, while making a save -- a more reactive stop that Quick also utilizes at times, especially in warm ups.
There are other similarities between Brodeur and Quick. Both skate exceptionally well and like to start more aggressively outside the blue paint on rush chances, then retreat as the play approaches -- another tactic disappearing among some of their more rigid butterfly peers. Don't be surprised to see Quick make saves three or four feet out of his crease on a rush, though again the Kings reigned in how often he's out there, and Quick better recognizes when a backside threat might burn him for being too aggressive.
For the Kings, the key was improving Quick's technical base without robbing him of those Brodeur-like abilities to react. In other words, add the butterfly technique Brodeur resisted without turning him into one of the drop-and-block robots stereotypically associated with the style.
Given some of the similarities that remain, it's fair to say the Kings have succeeded. Both goalies bait shooters, though few tease as actively as Brodeur, who purposely shows holes -- and sometimes even waves a glove distractingly -- before taking them away. For Quick, it's more subtle, with a low stance that teases shooters with available upper corners, only to take it away by pushing up into them with his torso and trapping shots against his body with active hands, thus also eliminating rebounds.
The evolution is not entirely one-sided.
Brodeur may be well past a full butterfly conversion, but by finally moving toward pads designed for goalies that play that way, he has improved his ability to take away low shots he can't see. It's something teams targeted in recent years, including some Devils' teammates playing for Team USA at the 2010 Olympics, trying to exploit his butterfly resistance by firing pucks along the ice – the very spot the butterfly was invented to take away – and into his feet. By moving to pads that are not only bigger, but, more importantly, rotate properly to seal the ice and stack that larger face vertically along it, Brodeur is better equipped for the shots he can't see.
So, in that one small way at least, there is now also some Jonathan Quick in Martin Brodeur's game.