The Los Angeles Kings’ goaltending situation has been fluid the past few seasons with veteran Jonathan Quick defending the starting roll and Cal Petersen looking to solidify himself as the future. Going into the 2021-2022 season, it appeared as if Petersen would enjoy his first season as the Kings’ number one netminder. Quick had other plans and returned to elite form. This, compounded by inconsistent play by Petersen, his having to enter COVID protocol, and the NHL’s holiday pause, resulted in him not playing a game between Dec. 6, 2021 and Jan. 8, 2022, over a month between starts. Since then, however, his play has been stellar and he has only lost one game. Here’s a look into why this break benefited Petersen and what it means for the Kings’ goaltending situation in the future.
Before Petersen’s Break
The Kings have been an inconsistent team this season. While things have looked far better as of late, the beginning of the season was rough for the team, including both netminders. After Cal Petersen lead the way in a dazzling 6-2 season opening victory against the favorited Vegas Golden Knights, things immediately turned downhill and the Kings lost six straight. Then they won the following seven and then dropped the next five. Throughout this time, the team was largely splitting starts between Quick and Petersen.
Starting in late November, things leveled out in the sense that loosing streaks are no longer going beyond two or three games, but they are also not winning more than three or four in a row. It is a sign that the team is becoming more consistent which, as a whole, is a trait they will need if they want to compete in this year’s playoffs. However, right as things were leveling out, it became clear that Quick was outplaying Petersen and, for the immediate future, he was going to emerge as the Kings first string goaltender.
Quick began to return to his vintage form and, at the same time, Petersen looked like he was struggling. Statistically speaking three goals in a game has been the magic number as 18 out of 20 of the Kings’ wins this season have come in games where they score three or more goals. Petersen was in net three out of the four times the Kings lost despite scoring three or more goals, all regulation losses. Quick’s 4-5 loss against the Anaheim Ducks on Nov. 30 was a shootout loss.
Petersen’s last win before his break came on Nov. 27 against the Ottawa Senators and his final start came in a crushing 0-4 shutout loss against the fledging Vancouver Canucks who broke an eight-game loosing streak in the process. At this point, his numbers were not looking very good. He had a goals-against average (GAA) of 3.10 and a save percentage (SV%) of .893 which were far worse than Quick’s numbers at that same point in the season. As a result, head coach Todd McLellan decided to go with what was working and, justifiably, decided to bench Petersen for the time being.
Petersen’s Month-Long Break
Petersen’s break was not supposed to last as long as it did. There were complicating factors that lead to it being over a month. Throughout mid-December, the Kings looked really good. In five games played from Dec. 9 to 18, they only lost two: Dec. 14 against the Tampa Bay Lightning in overtime and Dec. 18 against the Carolina Hurricanes. Those losses came against two of the top teams in the league and, in the process, they also managed to defeat great teams, including the current league-leading Florida Panthers.
While Quick played well throughout this stretch, the Kings’ 1-5 loss against the Hurricanes proved that he needed a rest, especially considering that the Kings would be playing the Washington Capitals the following night. This would have been the perfect opportunity for Petersen to come up big and prove that the time off had served him well; however, that would not be possible as he had been placed on the NHL’s COVID protocol list. Instead, the Kings depended upon Garret Sparks who they had recalled from the AHL’s Ontario Reign. Sparks managed to lead the Kings to a 3-2 comeback win over the Capitals.
This game would end up being the team’s last before the holidays as, the following day, the NHL announced that they would pause the season and go on the holiday break early due to rising case numbers in and around the league. As a result of this, the Kings had an unexpected eight-day break. Quick continued to play well after the break and, upon coming out of protocol, the team elected to wait a few games before starting Petersen. As a result, he would not see his first start until Jan. 8 against the Detroit Red Wings.
Petersen’s Return and Resurgence
Petersen’s first game back was an odd game. Throughout the entire first period, he only faced two shots. That is actually difficult for a goaltender because if they are not part of the action, they can become cold. Goalies actually want to face shots, just easy shots. This allows them to stay warm and build confidence in case a situation arises where they do need to make a point blank save. The first shot he faced was actually a breakaway and Petersen managed to make an incredible save.
The Kings’ Goaltending Situation Going Forward
The Kings are in a unique situation when it comes to goaltending: they have two goalies that could both be considered starters. This is different than the start of the season when most NHL analysts expected Petersen to emerge as the clear first string goaltender. Nevertheless, Quick started to clearly outplay Petersen and McLellan rightfully chose to roll with Quick for the time being.
This was a good thing as it set the tone that Petersen would not be able to take the starting spot away from Quick without truly earning it. Quick is an established veteran who has been the backbone of the Kings for over a decade and, as of right now, he is still the Kings’ goaltender. The Kings’ goaltending coach Bill Ranford echoed this sentiment.
“We haven’t got there quite yet, at some point, we’re going to have to get there. The one thing that I think, as an organization, as a staff, and myself personally, we’ve always said everybody’s looking at Cal as the next guy or somebody like Cal as the next guy. But until somebody knocks Quickie off that throne, it’s still his job there.”From “Kings still waiting to see whether Cal Petersen will knock Jonathan Quick ‘off that throne’ as No. 1 goalie”, The Athletic, 11/5/21
The starting position is Quick’s to lose or Petersen’s to take. The break obviously worked for Petersen as he immediately returned to his old form. With two goaltenders playing so well, the Kings have a real opportunity to allow both to shine and to bench one when he is not playing great. This should promote some healthy competition amongst the two.
There will be a time in the not too distant future where Petersen overtakes Quick as the number one goaltender; however, that time has not come. Right now, the Kings should be reveling in the fact that they have both a solid veteran an emerging talent in their crease. This gives Petersen the flexibility of not having to be the starter before he is ready and Quick is able to only play as much as his body can handle. It is really an ideal situation for a Kings team that is actively transitioning into a playoff-caliber team.
While Petersen still has a lot to learn and he can do so through observing the absolute legend that is Quick, he has made it clear that he has what it takes to play well at the NHL level. In all likelihood, he will become a part of the core on a Kings’ team that, in just a few years, looks to become Cup contenders once again.
As a native Angeleno, Katie Nash is a life-long Kings fan and experienced amateur hockey journalist. She is excited to provide her perspective through covering the Kings for The Hockey Writers.
Follow her on instagram @la.kings.hockey.