Quick Injury Masks Kings’ Bigger Issue

A collective sense of despair fell harshly upon Southern California on Saturday afternoon, as superstar goalie Jonathan Quick sustained a lower body injury in practice. Quick will be sidelined indefinitely, with no set timetable for his return. The 12-year veteran is coming off a stellar 2017-18 season in which he posted a 33-28-3 record and was a finalist for the Vezina Trophy.

Although the injury is a tough pill to swallow for Los Angeles Kings fans, the team has a bigger issue to address should they want to be considered a legitimate contender this season.

Kings Are Good Enough Between the Pipes

Truth be told, Quick is, unequivocally, one of the top handful goaltenders on the planet right now. While replacing the 32-year-old appears to be a daunting task, the Kings are equipped with a duo that can provide a reasonable facsimile of on-ice netminding to not hamper the team in the short-term.

LA’s Professional Backups

“He came in last year in some tough situations and was probably the reason we got a point at Winnipeg late in the year on the road trip,” said coach John Stevens of backup goalie Jack Campbell.  “He works hard, reads the game well, good communicator, so we’re confident he can step in and do the job.” (from ‘Kings’ Jonathan Quick sustains lower-body injury in practice’, The National Post, Oct. 7, 2018).

Although Campbell has only registered a total of 10 career NHL starts, he has not looked out of place when thrust in to action. The 26-year-old has shown the ability to make the most of his six-foot-three frame to render a stupendous .966 save percentage in three games this season. This includes a shutout on Thursday night against the Montreal Canadiens, in which the career backup was able to withstand 40 shots—a feat that the Kings’ social team celebrated accordingly:

Given his recent performances, the plan will likely call for Campbell to start the majority of the team’s games, save for the tail-end of games on back-to-back nights. In those cases, veteran netminder Peter Budaj would naturally take the wheel. If you recall, Budaj was re-acquired from the Tampa Bay Lightning last June in exchange for winger Andy Andreoff.

Peter Budaj Los Angeles Kings
Budaj has proven to be a seasoned professional and can be relied upon by the Kings. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Should the 36-year-old from Slovakia be called upon by the Kings on a more frequent basis, it would not be the first time. Ironically, Quick suffered a lower body injury during the 2016-17 season, and Budaj filled in admirably with an highly impressive 27-20-3 record. Although the veteran has only registered a total of 14 starts of the course of the past two NHL seasons, he is a seasoned professional that should alleviate the concerns of Kings fans across the board.

The Kings’ Bigger Issue

Now that I’ve lowered your blood pressure to a healthy level, let’s talk about something that the casual fan may not notice: The Los Angeles Kings have not played good hockey since since last March. Whether it’s Quick, Campbell, Budaj or Patrick Roy (circa 1985) assuming LA’s last line of defense, the team’s inadequacies can only be masked for so long.

Failing to Elevate Their Game

Yes, the Kings currently hold a 2-1-1 record this season, but this is simply misleading. Their pair of wins have come at the expense of teams, Montreal and the Detroit Red Wings, that will likely possess several ping pong balls at this summer’s NHL Draft Lottery. Meanwhile their pair of losses, both of which were well deserved, were to legitimate contenders, the San Jose Sharks and Winnipeg Jets. They have the league’s third-fewest shots per game (23) while allowing the third most (37.5). Suffice it to say, that is a very unhealthy delta.

Yes, the unexpected infusion of speed from rookie winger Austin Wagner and the ability of sophomore forward Alex Iafallo to fill-in nicely for Dustin Brown on the team’s top line are both pleasant narratives that should acknowledged. Unfortunately, there is very little else to be enthused about. Save for individual goals against Montreal, forwards Adrian Kempe and Jeff Carter have been underwhelming in their attempt to give the Kings the supplementary scoring they require. I’ll include the much-maligned Tanner Pearson in that list as well while I’m at it.

What the Kings Need to Do

Where do I begin? Put your body on the line to block a shot. Execute an open-ice hit that will galvanize your team. Hustle back to your defensive zone. Battle for loose pucks. In other words, get back to the fundamentals.

The Kings’ next five games consist of the following:

  • @ Ottawa Senators
  • @ Toronto Maple Leafs
  • vs. New York Islanders
  • vs. Buffalo Sabres
  • @ Dallas Stars

Winning the majority of these games would be nice, but continuing to do so at the expense of core fundamentals is just not sustainable. Start off by out-shooting a team like the Senators and take it from there.

The remainder of the month should be very telling as to where this team is headed.