The Los Angeles Kings are now in pole position to make the playoffs, three points ahead of the Vegas Golden Knights with an equal number of games played, and an easier schedule. If they can win four of their next five games, the Kings will make the playoffs, regardless of what happens below them in the standings. One thing that has helped the Kings massively over the last few games has been the play of goaltender Jonathan Quick. He has stepped up when it matters most and will need to continue this play into the playoffs if the Kings hope to make any noise.
Quick’s Recent Play
Much of the discourse surrounding the Kings heading into the last 10 games was centered around who would be the starting goalie during crunch time. The organization was waiting for one of the goalies to take control of the net and make it their own. Would it be the veteran Quick or the heir apparent Cal Petersen? While there is still time for this to change, it would appear that Quick has taken control. Starting last Tuesday against the Chicago Blackhawks, he has now started each of the team’s last four games, and it’s easy to see why.
His numbers weren’t out of this world against the Blackhawks, allowing two goals on 1.866 expected goals and finishing with a .900 save percentage (SV%). He made the big save when it mattered most though, the Kings have allowed the third-fewest shots against this season, but allow plenty of high danger chances, sitting in 22nd for both high and medium danger shots against. It becomes quality over quantity for Kings goalies and they have to come up big when the inevitable high danger chances come. Quick did exactly that in the third period, with time winding down on a Blackhawks power play, he stonewalled rookie Lukas Reichel on a rebound, securing the Kings 3-1 lead. Roughly 30 seconds later, Kings rookie Jordan Spence extended the lead to 4-1, Quick’s big save was the difference between a nervy 3-2 Kings lead, to a comfortable 4-1 lead.
It’s these kinds of big saves that the Kings need down the stretch, as they end up being much more than a single save. Like a big hit or penalty kill, they can completely swing the momentum of the game. Similarly, when you aren’t getting these saves from goalies, or worse, they’re letting in soft goals, the momentum swings in a completely different direction.
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Having a struggling goalie also changes the way a team plays in front of them, a team without confidence in their goalie is very evident. Players are less willing to take risks and are too afraid of mistakes, knowing any chance against is likely ending up in the back of their net. A team confident in their goalie can take risks and look for offensive opportunities knowing their goalie can bail them out, a perfect example of this has been the Tampa Bay Lightning the last two seasons, and the confidence they have in Andrei Vasilevsky. Of course, Quick is not Vasilevsky and the Kings can’t take the risks the Lightning can, but having greater confidence in their goalie will still be huge.
It wasn’t just the Blackhawks game Quick impressed in either. He struggled massively against the Colorado Avalanche, allowing three goals on 10 shots against, but I think you can chalk that up to being the second night of back-to-back starts against arguably the league’s best team. He regrouped for Saturday’s game against the Columbus Blue Jackets, finishing with 21 saves, one goal against, and 1.64 goals saved above expected. It was a dominant Kings win in the end, but you need your goalie to step up anytime you win 2-1.
The most impressive game from Quick by far was Tuesday night’s win over the Anaheim Ducks, he was nothing short of spectacular and stole that game for the Kings. He finished with 29 saves, one goal against, and 2.13 goals saved above expected. Once again, it was not only the number of saves but the quality as well. He made several stops he had no business making, robbing several Ducks players on multiple occasions. He looked like prime 2012 Quick, stealing games using his unique and exciting style of goaltending. It was the best performance from a Kings goalie all season and likely was the nail in the coffin for Petersen’s hopes of earning the starting spot before the playoffs. Quick looks dialed in, something that should terrify the Pacific Division.
Quick’s History of Performing Around This Time
Is it any surprise that Quick is stepping up when his team needs him? This is a goalie with a long history of playing his best hockey when the stakes are at their highest. He put together arguably the best goaltending performance of the modern era in 2012 and while that was a decade ago now, that competitive nature doesn’t leave you. He was stellar again during the King’s 2014 Stanley Cup run and has overall been an excellent playoff performer throughout his career. He’s had just two playoff runs with under a .900 SV%, his first appearance in 2009-10 and the 2015-16 playoffs. Outside of those two, his lowest SV% was .911 in 2013-14. He has three playoff runs with over a .930 SV% and was even stellar in the King’s last postseason appearance, posting a .947 SV% and 1.55 goals-against-average as the Kings were swept by the Golden Knights.
While I’m wary of putting all of my faith into a 36-year-old Quick who’s looked shaky at times this season and downright bad in seasons prior, history tells us that he’s going to put together strong performances for the rest of this season. Coach Todd McLellan seems committed to riding with Quick as well, as he’s projected to get his fifth straight start Thursday against the Blackhawks.
It’s hard to argue against this decision, and I’m excited to watch Quick down the stretch and into the playoffs. Watching him steal games and make incredible acrobatic saves just feels right.
Kings Need Quick to Stay Hot
I’m very confident in the Kings making the playoffs at this point, but am far less confident in them doing anything in the first round. If they have any hope of beating the Edmonton Oilers in round one, it comes from Quick turning back the clock and having an incredible round. Based on his play right now, it’s not impossible. Quick is heating up at the right time, and it could be the difference between the Kings missing the playoffs for the fourth straight season and an 83rd game.