Los Angeles Kings fans are unfortunately very familiar with poor goaltending. Over the last decade the L.A. crease has been like a revolving door, with Kings fans bearing witness to the brief and forgettable NHL careers of journeymen like Ryan Bach, Barry Brust, Yutaka Fukufuji, Adam Hauser, and Travis Scott. Since the lockout, the team has used 12 different goalies that have combined for a save percentage of .898, which is .008 below the league average over that span. This weakness has not been as costly as it could have been for the Kings, since their overall talent was not up to the calibre of a playoff team. This season a new and improved squad has emerged and looks poised to make a playoff run, led by young stars Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty. The question is, do they have the goaltending to take that step?
So far the team’s goaltending numbers have not been very good. Through November 24, both starter Jon Quick (-2.8) and backup Erik Ersberg (-3.5) ranked among the top 10 worst players in the league by GVT. Quick, who has started 27 of the team's 29 games so far, has allowed the most goals against of any goalie in the league and has a mediocre .900 save percentage. These results might suggest that the Kings should look into trading for or signing a veteran goalie to shore up the position. However, there is good reason to believe that Quick’s numbers will improve and help the Kings to a successful season.
Quick’s 2009-10 numbers (2.68 GAA, .900 save %) are likely the result of an early season slump, because his save percentage has dropped substantially from 2008-09 (2.48 GAA, .914 save %). Based on his past performance, Puck Prospectus’ VUKOTA system projected an 8.4 GVT for Quick this year, which suggests that he is likely to see his numbers rebound over the coming months.
Having said that, Quick has had a short NHL career to date, and it could be that he is being overrated because of one good year. A hot streak early in a career can easily camouflage the difference between a backup goalie and a legitimate starter.
We can add to our information about a young goalie by looking at their pro record prior to making the NHL. Here is a comparison of Quick's AHL save percentage numbers against two other fellow 2005 draftees who have emerged this season, Ondrej Pavelec and Tuukka Rask:
Quick: 33 games played, .917
Pavelec: 92 games played, .912
Rask: 102 games played, .906
Ersberg: 30 games played, .897
Since Quick is a year older than Pavelec and Rask, he should be expected to be slightly ahead of them on the development curve, but Quick still posted the best numbers of the group at the AHL level. It is a small sample size and team effects are unknown, but with the expectations surrounding Pavelec and Rask these numbers suggest that Quick may have the ability to play at a similar level.
Kings backup goalie Erik Ersberg’s numbers were also included for comparison. The Swedish goalie has accomplished little in North America, other than putting together a very strong March for the Kings in 2008. With prospect Jonathan Bernier tearing it up in the AHL this season for the Manchester Monarchs (10-6-2, 1.76, .948), Ersberg is likely living on borrowed time in Los Angeles. Having Bernier in their organization is another reason for the Kings not to go out and commit money to a goaltender from somewhere else. If Quick does falter, then they have a good young goalie as insurance behind him.
There is another factor to consider when evaluating Quick, and that is whether it is more difficult to play goal in L.A. If we break Quick's numbers down by situation, his career even strength save percentage is an above-average .921. This year his problems have not come during even strength play, where he has a .917 save percentage, but rather on the penalty kill (.835).
The Los Angeles Kings have a dismal penalty killing record since the lockout, finishing last in penalty killing efficiency for three straight seasons from 2005-06 to 2007-08. They improved to 7th in the league last year, but have dropped to 27th place so far this year, which suggests that 2008-09 may have been an aberration. Since the lockout, all Los Angeles goalies other than Quick have a mere .844 save percentage while shorthanded, .021 below league average. Part of this was surely because those goalies were subpar, but since their even strength save percentage was a much higher .910 (.008 below the league even strength average) it is probably also likely that the team’s penalty killers were poor. This theory is reinforced by shot quality measures that indicate Los Angeles allows a higher-than-average degree of difficulty (Alan Ryder rated the Kings 28th in the league last season in shot quality allowed). Based on that assumption, Quick’s actual performance was probably better than his numbers suggest both this year and last, as he likely faced more dangerous shots against than an average goalie, especially when his team was shorthanded.
Despite a team save percentage of only .894 so far, the Los Angeles Kings sit second in the Pacific Division. The team has steadily improved its shot prevention over the last few seasons and currently ranks second in the league, allowing just 26.8 shots against per game. Led by Kopitar, the team is also scoring nearly three goals per game. If the skaters can maintain that level of performance then the team will most likely only require average goaltending to make the playoffs, and Quick appears to be capable of at least that.
All indications are that general manager Dean Lombardi has committed to Jon Quick as his starting goalie by signing him to a three year extension at $1.8 million per season. Coach Terry Murray is also high on Quick in his postgame interviews, and has displayed his trust by giving Quick a very heavy workload through October and November. After years of cycling through retreads, the Kings would be wise to bring stability to their crease position and continue to develop their current goalies, rather than trying to bring in an outsider at a high cost who might give them only a slightly better chance of landing a playoff spot this year. The goaltending should be solid enough this year to make Los Angeles a strong contender for a top-8 placing in the Western Conference, and if all goes well Quick and Bernier have the potential to solidify the Kings’ goaltending situation for the next decade.
Philip Myrland is an author of Puck Prospectus and runs the statistical hockey website Brodeur Is A Fraud. You can contact him at BrodeurIsAFraud@Inbox.com.
Philip Myrland is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
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