Jim Neveau, NHL Correspondent
During the early part of this NHL season, the topic of goaltending has essentially centered around two guys: Tim Thomas in Boston and Carey Price in Montreal. Granted, Mathieu Garon has gotten a little publicity for his solid start in Columbus and there have been plenty of articles touting the credentials of Philadelphia net-minder Sergei Bobrovsky for the Calder Trophy, but when it comes to the nitty gritty of naming the best goalie in the league, Price and Thomas have dominated the discussion this year.
One goalie that has seemingly gone under the radar and avoided a lot of media scrutiny this season is 26-year old Jonathan Quick. He has quietly put together a really solid season for the Los Angeles Kings, going 15-5-1 with a GAA of 1.83 and a save percentage of .933%. He has also had his fair share of great games too, including a 38 save winning effort against the Bruins on November 20th that bested the aforementioned Thomas.
The piece de resistance of his season came last night on national television against the Detroit Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena. He saved all 51 shots in a 5-0 shutout effort, and he was tested strenuously the entire night. His athleticism was on full display throughout the game, and he certainly opened a lot of eyes nationally in the process.
Judging by his incredible performance last night, and the statistics that he has put up so far in the early going, the inevitable question that arises is whether or not Quick is just a flash in the pan, or if he can be legitimately considered a contender for the Vezina Trophy.
One of the key components to making a good Vezina contender is having a solid defense in front of the goalie in question. Last year’s winner Ryan Miller played behind a defensive group that finished fourth in the league in team goals against average, and it was also one of the most disciplined groups in the league, finishing fourth in team penalty minutes. Both of these statistics indicate that he had a very solid blue line corps in front of him, but it also means that the team also didn’t continuously put extra pressure on him in the form of tons of penalty kills.
Ilya Bryzgalov was also the beneficiary of a solid defense last season as a finalist for the Vezina. Behind a group led by Zbynek Michalek and Ed Jovanovski, Bryzgalov had a sparkling 42-20-6 record with a 2.29 GAA and .920%.
The defense that is playing in front of Quick may be very young, but they are getting the job done nonetheless. They are currently third in the NHL right now in shots against, which means they are taking care of a lot of rushes and attacks before they get to Quick. When a goalie is facing only 27.6 shots a contest, it lowers the pressure level immeasurably, and Quick has been up to the challenge when called upon this season.
Another obvious factor that comes into play when it comes to Vezina talk is the number of wins that the goalie is able to rack up. This does make being the back-stopper for a good team critical, and Quick definitely is in that position with the Kings. They made the playoffs as the sixth seed last season before losing to Vancouver in the first round, and alls igns are pointing to them making a return trip to the post-season this year.
On last year’s playoff squad, Quick ended up with 39 wins, which was only two fewer than the Vezina-winning Miller. With the Kings establishing a dominant presence on home ice at Staples Center, and with the tremendous defense that they’ve seen so far in the early going, it would not surprise anyone for Quick to have well over 40 wins this season and nail down that pre-requisite for gaining the crown.
The final hurdle is, naturally, how a goalie stacks up with his fellow craftsmen. Quick is currently ranked second in the NHL in goals against average, and he is fourth in save percentage. His tally of two shut-outs isn’t exactly awe inspiring, but the way he has gone about getting both of them is indicative of future brilliance in this category.
The two main rivals that Quick will be facing with in the Vezina race this season are both having stellar seasons of their own. Carey Price is making Habs fans forget all about that Jaroslav Halak guy, starting out with a 17-8-2 record and stopping 93.5% of the shots he’s faced. He is also leading in All-Star voting at the goalie position, and looks to be a lock to represent Montreal in the game later this season.
Tim Thomas, two years removed from winning the Vezina and a year removed from being replaced in the Boston crease by Tuukka Rask, has been having a renaissance season of his own, racking up a 14-2-3 record with a sparkling 1.51 GAA and five shut-outs. He has unquestionably been a huge surprise this season, and he is definitely the early favorite to take home the Vezina this year.
After looking at some of the other contenders, and at the qualities demanded of guys to win the Vezina, it is easy to see that Quick could very well be among the three finalists for the award, if not win it outright. He has the right blend of athleticism, determination, and ice water in his veins to be a successful goalie, and he has demonstrated those facets of his game a lot this season.
In the rough and tumble Western Conference, a lot can change very quickly in terms of the standings and fortunes of the teams involved, but the Kings seem like they’ll be able to weather the storms and have a successful year. Quick will be a huge factor in whether or not they get that far, but he seems to be ready for the challenge.