When Jonathan Quick backstopped the Los Angeles Kings to a Stanley Cup championship in 2012, the question that soon lingered was whether the goalie could perform at such a high level again.
As the defending playoff MVP prepares for the Western Conference Finals against the Chicago Blackhawks, the answer to the questions appears to be a resounding "yes."
But what Quick is accomplishing goes beyond answering that simple question. Quick's unique style and idiosyncratic approach to the position has many in the goalie community wondering if his blending of old- and new-school puck-stopping methods is setting a new standard for goalies, much in the way modern goaltending revolutionaries such as Patrick Roy and Dominik Hasek did in their day.
Goalie - LAK
GAA: 1.50 | SVP: 0.948
There are many things that make Quick, 27, the unique and successful goalie that he is. Some have to do with technique, some with preparation and some with mental toughness.
Having been around Quick and his goalie coach, Bill Ranford, for several years, it is easier to pinpoint five of the foundations that have led to Quick's playoff success and his status as one of the best big-game goalies in hockey today.
Down, but never out
In a post-game interview, the coach of a Western Conference rival once told me Quick was "the League's best goalie when on his knees." I then walked down the hall at Staples Center and told Quick of the compliment, to which he replied with a laugh, "Maybe that's because I go down too much." Joking aside, Quick's powerful foot plants and pushes from the butterfly position give him a lateral range of coverage that makes seemingly impossible saves possible. Add to that his smash-mouth compete level, and you get a formula for miracle saves.
Nerves of steel. Ice in his veins. All clichés apply to Quick -- especially in the face of adversity (see the impressive bounce-back performances after soft-goal losses in the opening round in St. Louis this postseason). Says a Kings team source: "He's the most mentally strong player I have ever seen." Another team source says Quick, unlike many goalies, does not consult with the increasingly present "sports psych" consultants, explaining, "He doesn't need it."
Element of surprise
The opposition's book on Quick going into the playoffs, in short, stressed the idea of "shoot high." St. Louis, in fact, spent most of its series whistling pucks past his ears. Quick knew this scoring strategy and, on-the-fly, made countering adjustments -- delaying his drops, placing his glove above his shoulder on post plays, straightening his posture to fill more space, throwing poke checks on in-tight plays. Perhaps most importantly, he has developed an ability to pop from low to high while on his knees, frustrating shooters with his now-you-see-net-now-you-don't save selection. This dynamically changing style, as opposed to a more predictable drop-and-block style that is used by a lot of modern goalies, has forced opponents to rip up their Quickbook.
Aggressive net presence
Some goalies are like fish. They're most comfortable swimming deep in the blue. Not Quick. He typically stands beyond the blue paint of the crease, aggressively cutting down angles for both perimeter and in-close shots. This approach is so effective, not just because of his superior ability to read plays, but because he and his defenseman work in tandem. When Quick comes out, his D-men "box out" down low, letting Quick handle the shooter while they focus on eliminating back-door passes and rebounds. This crease-area teamwork is a big reason for Quick's League-leading 1.50 goals-against average and .948 save percentage after two rounds of the playoffs.
"The biggest reason for his success is a lot of hard work." These are the words of Ranford, Quick's closest mentor and confidante. Drop into most any team practice and you'll see that work ethic in action: Quick showing off game-like battling in drills, working tirelessly on his power pushes, talking strategy with Ranford. Indeed, his elite-game performance is a direct result of equally elite effort and focus in practice that has him on the path to a possible Cup repeat.