More than a dozen goaltenders have challenged Jonathan Quick’s hold on the Kings’ net. Not one has succeeded.
Erik Ersberg couldn’t beat him out for the No. 1 job. Nor could Jason LaBarbera, Jonathan Bernier, Ben Scrivens, Peter Budaj, Ben Bishop, Jeff Zatkoff, Martin Jones, Jhonas Enroth, Jack Campbell, Darcy Kuemper or, most recently, Cal Petersen.
When Petersen was designated the opening night starter last season, it felt like the torch was being passed from the Stanley Cup-era leaders to the next generation. But Quick wasn’t ready for nostalgia or backup duty. He pulled off his best season in a while, compiling a 2.59 goals-against average and .910 save percentage to lead the Kings back to the playoffs. He also earned a shutout in their seven-game postseason loss to Edmonton.
“Every day you come in and try to get a little better. When you get the opportunity to play you try and make the most of it. It’s nothing more than that,” Quick said of outlasting so many challengers.
He still holds the torch — but the question is how much longer he’ll grip it.
The Milford, Conn., native will be 37 in January and his 10-year, $58-million contract expires after this season, which means he can become an unrestricted free agent. Has he looked ahead to that?
Has he talked to Kings executives about a new contract?
So, you don’t want to talk about it?
“I’d rather not,” he said.
Fair enough. But any evaluation of his performance this season must recognize that his job has become a lot more difficult.
The Kings had to veer away from “heavy” hockey and add speed and skill to become competitive again, but they’ve built a defense corps that’s small and prone to making mistakes and bad reads that expose their goalies to dangerous shots. Quick’s 3.15 goals-against average and .892 save percentage in 14 appearances (13 starts) reflect the team’s defensive faults as well as an uptick in NHL scoring. Petersen, who should have stopped the short-side shot that put the New York Rangers ahead in the third period Tuesday and set up their 5-3 victory over the Kings, is at 3.56 and .876.
Quick said his 6-6-1 record “is something I need to be better at,” politely omitting he hasn’t consistently gotten the defensive support he once could rely on.
“I think the league plays a different game now, so teams are better at creating scoring opportunities,” Quick said, in what amounts to a speech for a man who’d rather face a slapshot than a camera or microphone. “The amount of video and analytics, I mean there’s guys that play the way that analytics is telling them to play. So there’s a lot more going on as opposed to 10, 12 years ago.
“It’s kind of on us to defend it. Looking at it analytically at where the shots are probably coming from, it is a different league. Obviously, the team dynamics here changed according to how the league is going.”
Petersen remains the heir apparent, despite his failure to seize his chances. Whenever Quick hands over the starting job, it will end an era.
After all this time — Quick made his NHL debut on Dec. 6, 2007, and became a regular in 2008-09 — after two Stanley Cup championships, a Conn Smythe trophy as the most valuable player in the 2012 playoffs, a Jennings trophy in 2018 — as the primary goalie on the team that gave up the fewest goals — and so many key wins, it’s difficult to picture anyone else as the Kings’ No 1 goalie.
“Every day you come in and try to get a little better. When you get the opportunity to play you try and make the most of it. It’s nothing more than that.”
Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick
“It’s been an incredible career for him, and it’s surely not over at this point,” goaltending coach Bill Ranford said. “He’s been a guy that’s given us an opportunity to win. Guys have come in, and he’s still been able to hold the fort. That’s kudos to him. He’s got that fiery spirit and he’s still not willing to let it go at this point.”
Quick did well to survive the chaos that followed management’s all-in push to win in 2012 and 2014. Talent was replenished slowly. The core was broken up. Dustin Brown’s retirement after last season left Quick, Anze Kopitar, and defenseman Drew Doughty as holdovers from the two Cup champions.
If Quick feels pride in making it through the rebuild intact, he wasn’t saying so.
“It’s same as the years when you’re having success. You show up, you work. Whether it’s a good game or bad game you have to move forward,” he said. “It’s good to be in a spot where we made the playoffs last year and we’re currently in a playoff spot. But now we’ve got to fight to hold on to that spot.”
Quick continues to climb the list of superlatives for American-born goalies. He ranks fourth in regular-season games played (726) behind John Vanbiesbrouck’s 882 and fourth in wins with 365, four behind Tom Barrasso’s third-place total and within reach of Ryan Miller’s record of 391. Quick owns the record for shutouts by an American goalie, with 57. With 92 playoff appearances Quick ranks second to Barrasso’s 119. With 49 playoff wins, he’s 12 behind Barrasso.
He's done everything the old-fashioned way: He disdains analytics and uses them “as little as possible.” Ranford doesn’t force-feed him. “We just look at his game and try to keep his game in the best order that we can,” Ranford said. “The only thing he cares about is wins. And that’s really the way he’s always approached it.”
Quick isn’t about to change his approach or standards while the torch is still in his hands.
“Every year you come in, you want to win a Cup. If anyone has any other idea of what they want to do this year than that, then we don’t have it,” he said. “Every day, you work towards being a playoff team. And when you become a playoff team, then you work towards winning 16 games. That’s the only reason to play this game, to be honest, so anything other than that is a disappointment.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.