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Quick Rises to the Occasion

by Rich Hammond / Los Angeles Kings

To understand what Jonathan Quick’s hockey life is like these days, try sitting on a chair that is missing a leg. That is, figuratively, the level of support Quick typically receives when he takes his position on the ice.

Based purely on raw numbers, Quick is having a fantastic season. At the still-young age of 25, Quick ranks among the top five in starting goalies in goals-against average (1.93) and save percentage (.934) and has a league-best six shutouts. Put those stats in context, though, and Quick’s season is even better.

That’s because not only is Quick performing at a high level, he’s doing so while playing for the lowest-scoring team in the NHL. The Kings are averaging a league-low 2.09 goals per game. In Quick’s 35 starts this season, the Kings have averaged 2.20 goals per game.

No other goalie in the NHL faces that type of pressure, knowing, at the start of a game, that if he allows two goals -- a strong game -- he might be automatically doomed to defeat. Detroit’s Jimmy Howard and the New York Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist are touted as Vezina Trophy favorites, but both goalies play on teams that rank in the top 10 in goals per game this season. Quick’s margin for error is thinner than a stick blade.

Still, Quick has thrived, particularly of late. He has allowed a total of three goals in his last five starts. Twice, he had shutouts. Twice, he allowed one goal and lost (once in overtime).

It would be natural for Quick to rip into his teammates every now and then, to publicly bemoan the lack of support he gets. By nature, he doesn’t. Talk to him after a 1-0 loss, and he’s more likely to flog himself for allowing the lone goal than say one word about the fact that the red light never shined at the other end.

Quick only grins slightly when asked about being accustomed to playing in tight, low-scoring games.

"Well, it seems like it has happened frequently, but every game brings its own challenges on for a goalie," Quick said. "Sometimes you’re going to have to make 40 saves. Sometimes you’re going to have to make 18, and a few of them are going to be real quality. Sometimes your team is going to score four goals for you.

"Every game is different and every game has its own challenges. You prepare to come in and not let in any. That’s ultimately your goal, but sometimes they’re going to get a few and you need your team to score some goals."

So if the Kings’ lack of scoring bothers Quick, he doesn't let it show, and that’s by design. Kings goalie coach Bill Ranford, who has worked closely with Quick since Quick first cracked the Kings’ lineup in late 2007, said he doesn’t have to do any psychological work to keep the goalies’ spirits high.

"We don’t even talk about it," Ranford said. "(Goalies') job is to stop the puck. It doesn’t matter. They do their job. You control what you can control, and that’s stopping the puck. We haven’t even gone there."

Quick has reached a new height in his slow, steady climb, one that started when former Kings general manager Dave Taylor selected Quick in the third round of the 2005 draft. A year later, newly installed GM Dean Lombardi took goalie Jonathan Bernier with the No. 11 overall

Through no fault of their own, the goalies became typecast. Bernier was the star-in-waiting. Quick was the other guy. During the 2007-08 hockey season, Bernier won a gold medal with Canada in the World Junior Championships. Quick played in the ECHL, a level of minor-league hockey below the AHL.

That’s when the tortoise-and-hare race started. Early in the 2008-09 season, the Kings needed a goalie. Quick had been playing solid, but not spectacular, while Bernier -- admittedly upset that he had been cut from the Kings’ roster during training camp -- got off to a slow start. By virtue of merit, Quick got the call.

He never left. Quick played 44 games that season and had four shutouts. In training camp, in 2009, Quick won the starting job over Erik Ersberg and Bernier, and his numbers have steadily improved since.

In 2009-10, Quick had a 2.54 goals-against average and a .907 save percentage. In 2010-11, he had a 2.24 goals-against average and a .918 save percentage. Now those numbers have improved to 1.93 and .934.

Quick has smoothed the rough edges from his game. Always an athletic, aggressive goalie, Quick has progressively become more calm and "quiet" in the net. Former coach Terry Murray would often (and correctly) talk about Quick’s need to bring constant focus to games. Such talk has vanished this season.

"I think it’s just the whole maturity level," said Ranford, who won the Conn Smythe Trophy and the Stanley Cup with Edmonton in 1990. "He has taken on a little more responsibility. I think he’s really relied upon. He’s no longer a young rookie. He’s relied on more as a leader now. I think the guys, especially in the trying times that we’re going through right now, they’re really leaning on him to be good every night.

"Both guys, both him and Bernier, have given us a chance to win, and our defensive structure is there to help them. When you’re not scoring goals, that part of the game has to be in place, and it has been."

Kings coach Darryl Sutter has only been on the job for a month, but it didn’t take long for him to appreciate Quick. Sutter is a big "team" guy. With Sutter, any media discussion of a particular player almost centers around that player’s contributions within the team. Sutter, by nature, isn’t big on individual glory.

But not only did Sutter go out of his way to praise Quick as "clearly, clearly the team’s best player," he also spoke of Quick as being one of the top players in the league. It’s not only Quick’s numbers that have impressed Sutter. Anyone with an HBO subscription has seen that goalies can be a bit quirky, to put it mildly. In the Kings’ locker room, though, Quick is one of the guys, well-liked and inclusive.

"As a goalie, he has really good leadership skills," Sutter said. "With a lot of goalies, it’s their position and then it’s (the rest of) the team. With him, you always got the read on him that he was a big part of the identity, maybe the main part, the major player in that. He doesn’t get enough credit."

Nor does he seek it. Quick’s name is starting to pop up on short lists for the Vezina Trophy, but his campaign, such as it is, is likely to be a low-profile one. Quick won’t promote himself, and the Kings’ low-scoring offense is the unfortunate talking point of the team.

That doesn’t mean Quick isn’t appreciated in Los Angeles, and particularly within his team.

"With his personality, I really don’t think he cares (about being underrated)," Kings alternate captain Matt Greene said. "As long as your coaches, management and teammates value you, and know your true value, then I think you’re happy with that. That’s a definite for us. We’re scoring two goals a game and we’re still in the playoff hunt.

"He’s been our MVP this year, and he’s been doing that since he came here. It’s awesome. It’s awesome having a guy doing that back there. It lets you play with confidence, because you know that if you give up a chance, he’s back there for you. That’s a real good feeling."

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