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Jonathan Quick deserves Vezina Trophy consideration

by Rich Hammond / Los Angeles Kings
Fortunately for Jonathan Quick, he doesn’t have to campaign for the Vezina Trophy. He doesn’t have to give stump speeches, shake hands and kiss babies on a rope line or push for endorsements from peers.

The only thing Quick has to do is stop pucks, and he’s pretty good at that task.

With a stellar, consistent performance this season, Quick has put himself in strong contention for the Vezina Trophy, awarded annually to the goalie ``adjudged to be the best at this position.’’ That’s highly subjective, and it will be up to the NHL general managers to pick the winner via an anonymous vote.

Winning the Vezina would be a tremendous accomplishment for Quick. He would be the Kings’ first-ever Vezina winner, and would cement his seven-year rise from third-round draft pick to ECHL goalie to AHL goalie to NHL All-Star to elite goalie. Even to be nominated as one of the three finalists would be satisfying.

Just don’t ask Quick to say so.

If Quick is known for one thing, beyond his athletic saves, it is his dogged humbleness. Ask him to take credit for a win, or even a good save, and his face slightly contorts into a mixture of discomfort and embarrassment. Quick only talks about his performances in terms of how they could have been better.

That’s a tough task this season. Entering Wednesday’s games, Quick leads the NHL with 10 shutouts and is ranked second in goals-against average (1.89) and third in save percentage (.931). Ranked ahead of him in both categories is St. Louis’ Brian Elliott, who has played only 36 games. Quick, Elliott, the New York Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist and Phoenix’s Mike Smith figure to be the top Vezina candidates.

Ask Quick for his thoughts about the Vezina, and he looks at his feet and politely mumbles something about trying to secure a playoff spot. So, it’s up to others to speak for him. And they do, quite forcefully.

``If he’s in a different market, somewhere like Vancouver on anywhere on the East Coast, I think there’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that he would get the Vezina,’’ Kings defenseman Drew Doughty said. ``I think he kind of gets punished for playing here, just because he doesn’t get that recognition. In a way, it’s not fair, because I don’t think there’s any way that any goalie has played better than him this year.

``He might not have the same amount of wins as some other goalies, but in a lot of those losses he had, he let up one goal and we didn’t get any. He definitely gets under-recognized, and if he doesn’t win the Vezina, I think it kind of got stolen from him.’’

As Doughty noted, Quick’s season is all the more impressive given the pressure that he’s been under. For a huge chunk of this season, the Kings averaged only slightly more than two goals per game and, for a long stretch, were the lowest-scoring team in the NHL. So, on top of the regular pressures of being an NHL goalie, Quick has also had to deal with infrequent support.

Nine times this season, Quick has allowed one or zero goals in regulation and lost the game. That’s a staggering total. With even an average offense playing in front of him, Quick probably would have reached 40 wins this season, the criteria named by coach Darryl Sutter for an ``elite’’ goalie.

``I think the biggest thing is that he’s considered an elite goaltender in this (locker) room,’’ Kings alternate captain Anze Kopitar said. ``I think that’s all he cares about. I think that’s what he shows, too. I don’t think he’s concerned about how people are talking, or if he’s going to be up for the Vezina or not.

``But I think he knows that we respect him and we believe in that guy that he’s back there, that he’s going to make the crucial save, the big save that we need, and give us a chance. I think, in most cases, that’s all you want, is just respect from your teammates and to know that they can trust you and that you’re a big part of this team.’’

Not only do the Kings respect Quick, but they like him. Goalies are often known as the odd birds of the locker room, the guys who are the moodiest or have the quirkiest habits. That’s not the case for the Kings. Both Quick and backup Jonathan Bernier are competitive but otherwise well-adjusted.

Quick’s team-first demeanor extends to the ice as well. While he has been known to ``chirp’’ -- trash-talk -- teammates in practice, he is fiercely loyal. Even if a defenseman fumbles the puck in the neutral zone and an opponent scores on a breakaway, that defenseman won’t hear a peep of protest from Quick.

``He’s very humble,’’ Doughty said. ``He expects a lot from himself. One of the good things about him is, if he lets in a goal and it’s completely, say, my fault, you tell him, `Sorry, Quickie, that was my fault,’ and he always says, `No, no, I should have had it. It’s not your fault.’

``He will always take the blame, every time the puck goes in the net. That’s one good thing about him, for sure, is that he always gives you that confidence, among the D, that he’s not going to come out there and yell at you for making a mistake or anything like that. He’s an unbelievable guy, on and off the ice. I wouldn’t want to have another goalie to play for.’’

To put it mildly, the Kings went through quite a few other goalies before they got to Quick.

Kopitar noted that, ``in my first two years, we went through 12 goalies. We were joking that, in 20 years, the New Jersey Devils didn’t have 12 goalies. Marty (Brodeur) was playing the whole time, and we went through 12.’’

Technically, the Kings had 11 different goalies in 2006-07 and 2007-08, but Kopitar’s point is well-taken. In that second season, one of those goalies was Quick, who came up for a three-game stint in December.

A third-round pick in 2005, Quick fell into the shadows a bit when the Kings took Bernier in the first round in 2007. The same year, Quick spent almost half the season in the ECHL. But in 2008-09, Quick made the jump from the AHL to the NHL after the Kings traded Jason LaBarbera. Before long, Quick had established himself as the Kings’ top goalie, and that status has not changed.

Quick is the only goalie in Kings history to record at least 30 wins in three consecutive seasons, and this season he became the team’s first All-Star goalie in 30 years. With a good finish, he will establish new franchise single-season records for goals-against average and save percentage.

Beyond the Kings’ history books, though, how good is Quick? The best person to judge might be defenseman Willie Mitchell, who is not only the team’s oldest player but also spent four seasons playing in Vancouver in front of Roberto Luongo, one of the top goalies of this era and a former Vezina finalist.

``He’s been exceptional,’’ Mitchell said of Quick. ``I saw the best of (Luongo) in Vancouver, and he’s playing pretty well again for them right now. But I saw the best of him in his first year in Vancouver. He was exceptional. That’s probably the best goaltending I’ve seen in my career, his first year in Vancouver. He was on it. That’s what I relate Quickie’s season to, is that season.

``I think the thing that’s probably been the best about his game this year has been his consistency. I can’t say he’s played a real stinker of a game, that he has cost us a game. Playing as many games as he has, that’s a testament to him. That’s tough to do. As I player, I’ve thrown up a couple stinkers this year, where I didn’t feel good about my game. You focus, you prepare, you do things right but sometimes it just doesn’t unfold the way you want. I think, with Quickie’s season, it’s tough for me to think of a game when that has happened to him.

``With the goal scoring that we’ve had this season, if we don’t have his goaltending, we just don’t get in (the playoffs). I think that should put the exclamation point on it. When you’re talking about the Vezina, you’re talking about a goalie that gets his team where it’s supposed to be, in the postseason. We have a few games left to get to where we want to be, but if we get there, I don’t know how you argue it.’’
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