Another terrific Guest Post by Brian Kennedy
It’s not exactly a controversy, but the goaltending situation in LA has taken a tiny bit of an interesting turn in the past few days.
Jonathan Quick has been the workhorse this year, putting up Brodeur-like minutes played and having started all but a few of the team’s games. To date, he has played in sixty-one of the club’s sixty-eight games. His record is 37-19-4 coming into Sunday’s action and his numbers good. He’s got a save percentage of .909 and a GAA of 2.99.
His wins now make him the top in team history, though purists will discount that a bit due to the fact that every game has a winner, unlike in the old days. He has three shutouts to go along with his wins.
Waiting patiently for his turn all season has been Swedish backup Eric Ersberg. His is twenty-eight, in his third season with the team, and to this point in the year, he has played just eight times, compiling a 2-3-1 record and posting a GAA of 2.99 and a save percentage of .886. The understanding he’s had with the team all year has been simple, and expressed by Coach Murray on any number of occasions: “Quick’s our guy, and we’re going to go with him. We also appreciate the role Eric plays.”
Chances that Ersberg is around by the fall are slim. It’s not that he’s not good enough, or that the team doesn’t have confidence in him. On the contrary, the fact is that the Kings have a pipeline leaking goalies, with Jonathan Bernier in Manchester this year and Jeff Zatkoff backing him up well.
An interesting side note here is to ponder what might happen should Bernier come up to camp in the fall and play really well, or even outplay Quick. In that case, do you keep both of them and platoon them? Do you keep both of them and inaugurate a contest for the number one job? Do you keep both of them and play Quick, effectively putting Bernier in the Ersberg position, which could cause both resentment and rust to set in?
This is precisely a scenario which has played itself out in Kings’ history in recent years, when a coach wasn’t willing to go with one guy, or when he went with one as a default move and then saw that guy falter. Think of the Jason LaBarbera-Mathieu Garon back-and-forth a couple of years ago under now-fired coach Marc Crawford.
The problem wasn’t so much that neither guy could handle the job as that Crawford couldn’t muster the courage to put the number one label on either of them. By the time he did, the season was slipping away.
What has complicated everything in recent days and created at least a bit of resentment, apparently, on Ersberg’s point is that he hasn’t been played much, and not even when young Quick, just twenty-four and married last off-season, saw a baby come into his family at the end of the week.
Quick had arrived in Dallas with the team just shortly before his phone rang with the news that his wife was in labor. It was not unexpected, and so he hopped a commercial flight back to LA to be a part of the grand adventure.
Thirty-six hours after the labor started, Jonathan and Jacklyn had their daughter, Madison Mychal, and Quick was off home in the middle of the night to get some rest.
Meanwhile, the team was suiting up for Dallas in Texas, and rather than Mr. Ersberg getting the nod, Jonathan Bernier did, having traveled from the East coast. Media reports in LA the next day quoted Ersberg as saying that he had reached an understanding with Murray about each one’s position on the matter, that he was OK with it, but that he felt that he shouldn’t say anything lest he make a statement that he might regret.
So he was peeved. Bernier, meanwhile, played a good game in a 2-1 Kings’ shootout win. In the game, he stopped twenty-nine of thirty shots, and six shots—that was all of them—in the shootout.
With the LA team coming home to play Nashville on Sunday and then have three days off, the Manchester Monarchs standout was back in the air Sunday and headed off home to the AHL to continue his campaign there.
To date in the minors, he has played fifty games, with amazing numbers. His save percentage is .937 and his GAA is 2.08. So it might not have been an unreasonable idea to give him the reward of an NHL game, not so much as a test (though if it were that, he obviously passed with a “A”) as a reward for holding the fort on the right coast and doing his time as an apprentice. In case you’re wondering, the guy won’t even turn twenty-two until August, so there’s lots of time for him to make his name with the big-league team.
Quick, meantime, looked less than sharp in his next outing, that game on Sunday against the Predators. He was not alone, however. The Kings started out slow, nobody moving his feet. They paid in the form of an early Nashville goal, which came from Steve Sullivan
at 4:42 of the first period.
People who follow the Kings probably know that the team is prone to letting in early goals, so the fact that they did this time isn’t news. On the shot, which came from the right faceoff
dot, Quick was a little too far back in the net, squeezed against his left post. The puck went past him on his right and just hit the twine in the barest inch between the post and the start of the rope.
Ersberg, meanwhile, looked on from the bench, seeming interested but probably counting down the minutes until it was time to shower and head home. He plays less frequently than he gets a haircut, after all.
What becomes of the guy is anyone’s guess. He’s capable, though you’d never guess running into him in the mall that he’s a professional goaltender. He’s the very definition of “slight,” which is to say that at six feet tall, he’s skinny enough that his arms are distinctly stick-like. That, of course, is not the point when it comes to judging a goaltender’s physical ability, and his strengths are that he’s quick, he’s flexible, and he’s technically well-schooled.
Come to think of it, there are a lot of teams who probably could pick up a guy like him and get some good minutes out of him. They’d proabably find, too, that if he had enough minutes to stay in game tune that he could carry his share of the load in the tandem setup.
On the other hand, maybe the best place for him is LA. After all, if Quick does end up being the kind of kid who can take the heavy minutes year after year, he’s not likely to enjoy a goaltending competition, and Coach Murray would be daft to inaugurate one, particularly if the team goes to the playoffs this year, does anything, and this sees their netminder as someone who can hold them in when the games get tough.
And if Bernier comes up next year, he’s unlikely to enjoy being the second fiddle on a team where he’s going to spend most nights in a baseball cap opening the door for players who are coming on and off the ice. In that case, a reliable second man like Ersberg could continue to serve as the Kings’ righthand man.
As the Nashville versus LA game went on, Quick found himself tested a couple of times. He never really got to his best, most focused self, but the team in front of him wasn’t doing him a great number of favors either. Through two periods, the shots were Nashville twenty-two, LA fifteen. The Kings did tie the game on a Kopitar power play goal in period one, but nobody had scored again through forty.
The third period had the home team go ahead by a goal, but the visitors then seized the initiative and scored thirty-nine seconds afterwards to make it 2-2. They got another, again at even strength, with less than four minutes to go to take the game, 3-2.
About his goalie’s play, Coach Murray said (speaking of the first goal) that he thought “that’s a play that he has to have. That’s down below the bottom of the circle, very sharp angle; he just wasn’t square to the puck. That’s a play he has to have.”
The baby came home a day or two ago, so Mr. Quick is not likely to sleep through the night for a while. But he’s got to find a way to overcome that happy problem and regain his focus in order to lead the Kings through the end of the season in the way that he’s taken them this far.
If not, there’s always Ersberg ready to spell him, or Bernier in Manchester, but hopefully, neither of those guys is on Quick’s mind when he takes to the net again Thursday to face Chicago.
Brian Kennedy’s first book
, Growing Up Hockey, is the story of a hockey everyman. His new one, Living the Hockey Dream, tells the stories of lots of stars and average Joes from many eras of hockey history and many parts of the hockey world.