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Laughing Off Jonathan Quick's Struggles

It's the end of Jonathan Quick's save % and I feel fine.

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Jonathan Quick is playing the worst hockey of his career.

That is, according to unadjusted save percentage over a 15-game stretch (including playoffs). From 12/9 in Buffalo to Wednesday's cameo against New Jersey, the Kings' starter has paired, like "Two Buck Chuck" with spoiled cheese, an .871 Sv% (.897 5v5 Sv%), along with a 5-5-4 record and 3.02 GAA.

Some other career nadirs:

3/22-4/25/10 3-7-3, 3.30 GAA (.877 Sv%)
2/14-3/22/09 6-7-1, 3.09 GAA (.893 5v5 Sv%)

To lend further context, if we extrapolated Quick's recent numbers over an entire season, they would rank dead last in the league (among goalies with 1000+ min), behind current cellar-dweller Mike Smith (.885 Sv%, .893 5v5 Sv%).

Here's another laugh: Before Quick's December (and January) to misremember, what was the worst 15-game stretch of unadjusted Sv% offered by a Los Angeles netminder?

The answer is always Dan Cloutier. Over two injury-riddled seasons (11/22/06-2/28/08), he hurled an almost unimaginable .850. Let's rubberneck a little bit: Say, over 15 games, a hot goalie faces 500 shots and allows 30 goals for a .940 Sv%. That's two goals against per game. For Clouts, that would have been five goals against a game.

But I digress. Now you know much Quick has struggled since early December, let's talk about why.

The Defense Rests...or Does It?

Of course, LA has gone through the season without their second-pairing from last year's championship turn. They've also lost, at various times, Jake Muzzin, Alec Martinez, and Robyn Regehr, and in their places, have had to use AHL fodder like Jamie McBain and Jeff Schultz. With all that's been made of the team's diminished 5v5 defensive presence, this might be the first place you look toward to explain Quick's winter woes. Except...

Games PDO Scoring Chances For % Scoring Chances For Scoring Chances Against Scoring Chances For/60 Scoring Chances Against/60
10/8-12/6/14 27 101.6 49.6 556 566 26.2 26.6
12/9/14-1/14/15 17 96.1 58.4 408 291 30.2 21.5

(Here's War on Ice's definition of scoring chances.)

From early December to now, the Kings have cut down their 5v5 Scoring Chances Against/60 by five per game, culminating in a whopping Scoring Chances For % uptick from 49.6 to 58.4 %.

Actually, the numbers from 12/9/14-1/14/15 might look familiar:

Games PDO Scoring Chances For % Scoring Chances For Scoring Chances Against Scoring Chances For/60 Scoring Chances Against/60
2013-14 82 100.1 55.4 1798 1446 28.3 22.7

So record and Sv% be damned, the Kings have looked the most like the Kings since early December. Despite off-ice conduct and injury problems, Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty, and company have more or less made it work defensively. It's not to say that there haven't been breakdownshaving personally tracked LA's scoring chances this season, using the "home plate" definition—I can tell you, both visually and statistically, that team defense isn't as strong as it was last season.

However, the team doesn't deserve the lionshare of the blame for Quick's decline, as they're definitely playing better than earlier in the year.

So let's look elsewhere.

Deflect the Blame?

LA's opposition has feasted at even strength on deflections over the years, including the playoffs (league average is 1):

Roughly, this means that for every 10 deflected goals in the slot an average team gives up, the 2011-14 Kings have given up 15. While that seems unusually high for a strong defensive squad, as Jason Lewis mentioned, it's part of their system.

How about this year's edition?

It's a small sample size, of course, and it's hard to say how many of these deflected goals came over Quick's last 15 appearances. But if we trust our eyesremember recent pinball wizards like the Nashville and New York gameshe has suffered some bad luck.

That said, Quick has supposedly "unbelievable focus on finding the puck" when he's on. So you'd expect him to track a couple more errant shots here and there. Instead, we've seen a lot of "Quick Face":

Killed by Penalties

Before 12/9, LA sported an impressive 84.4% penalty kill success rate.  Since then, they've erased only 66% of their penalties. Let's dive into the underlying numbers:

Games Goals Against Penalty Kill % Team Sv% Scoring Chances Against Scoring Chances Against/60 Fenwick Against/60
10/8-12/6/14 27 15 84.4 0.876 122 45.9 66.2
12/9/14-1/14/15 17 16 66 0.724 63 51.9 67.6

The first thing we notice is a startling drop in team shorthanded Sv%. In front of the goalie, we see a fairly stable Fenwick Against/60, but almost six more Scoring Chances Against/60.

For more context, here's how the average team would do shorthanded last year.

Team Sv% Scoring Chances For/60 Fenwick Against/60
0.878 49 74

Clearly, winter shorthanded Sv% has been well below-average. SCA/60 has also been nothing to brag about.

To my eye, the PK hasn't been out-and-out terrible, but they've made mistakes (such as giving Steve Bernier wide berth around Martin Jones last Wednesday). Quick's let in some softies too (the Ryan Ellis goal comes to mind). And of course, deflections (Dan Boyle).

They say the goaltender is your team's best penalty killer. Quick has been far from that, but we can conclude that his teammates haven't done him many favors either.

This Is Quick?

Before 12/9, Quick boasted an unadjusted .931 Sv% and a .938 5v5 Sv%. At that point, if he had gone, on say, paternity leave, he'd be pacing the league in Sv% and would be third in 5v5.

And to repeat, if Quick's only action this season had come from 12/9 on, his .871 Sv% with .897 5v5 Sv% would place him dead-last in the NHL.

So an early-season Vezina candidate is now playing like Dan Cloutier. But Quick is no stranger to these bipolar results:

Keeping in mind that league-average unadjusted Sv% is .917, we see Quick has played below that at many times in his career. Of note are the times that he's played well below a .900 Sv%.

There's a reason why I've called him "consistently inconsistent" for a while now.

However, goaltending statistics by nature are subject to wild swings. Is Quick really that much more inconsistent than respected peers in a moving average of 15 games?

To some degree, yes. All goalies are inconsistent, but Quick is wilder than some of the best in the league.  Here, Rask looks super-human, while Rinne, like the Los Angeles netminder, had some rough times, perhaps recovering from injuries.

Every goalie has moments when he can't stop a beachball. Quick just happens to have more of them than the aforementioned.

Of course, 15 games does not a goalie make. "When it comes to goalies, as with everything else in analytics, you can’t just look at the last 15 games, you need to view the entire picture."

So let's check out the big screen:

Rank Goalie Shots Sv%
1 Tuukka Rask 7887 0.9270
2 Tim Thomas 9293 0.9250
3 Tomas Vokoun 7852 0.9229
4 Henrik Lundqvist 14104 0.9225
5 Pekka Rinne 10651 0.9193
6 Ryan Miller 12278 0.9188
7 Craig Anderson 10725 0.9186
8 Jaroslav Halak 8355 0.9183
9 Roberto Luongo 11426 0.9179
10 Semyon Varlamov 7847 0.9173
11 Jimmy Howard 10041 0.9171
12 Jonas Hiller 10205 0.9167
13 Carey Price 11928 0.9166
14 Corey Crawford 7818 0.9163
15 Jonathan Quick 11906 0.9163
16 Cam Ward 10547 0.9150
17 Mike Smith 9345 0.9146
18 Kari Lehtonen 9777 0.9145
19 Antti Niemi 10277 0.9143
20 Marc-Andre Fleury 13296 0.9127
21 Niklas Backstrom 8796 0.9119
22 Brian Elliott 6881 0.9106
23 Evgeni Nabokov 8519 0.9101
24 Ilya Bryzgalov 10576 0.9101
25 Miikka Kiprusoff 9175 0.9095
26 Martin Brodeur 8594 0.9090
27 Steve Mason 9622 0.9082
28 Ondrej Pavelec 9084 0.9062

A goaltender's Sv% begins to stabilize after about 3,000 shots. Here, each goalie has appeared in over 250+ games (including playoffs) since 2008-09 and faced at least 6,800 shots.

Quick is exactly middle of the pack.

Moving on, let's touch on a couple far-flung theories as to why Quick's been out of it.

Quick Sucks in January Because the Kings Suck in January

Actually, this is true.

How Does a Goaltending Coach Affect a Goalie?

As far as I know, there have been no definitive studies about how much a goaltending coach can affect a goalie statistically at the NHL-level. The evidence is usually anecdotal.

However, I find it interesting that while Quick and/or the defense have received the brunt of the criticism when LA's goals against falters, goaltending coach Bill Ranford has escaped any barbs (probably because there is no way for us to really quantify his impact).

In a recent conversation, Nick suggested that he'd like Quick to play in a more reserved manner. We agreed that when team defense is tip-top, aggressiveness can flourish because it may cut down what few scoring chances against materialize. However, if the team falters in coverage dramatically, it leaves the goalie more vulnerable to backdoor plays, wraparounds, etc.

A different Nick recently credited goaltending coach Mike Bales with calming Marc-Andre Fleury's emotional approach and aggressive style. Emotional and aggressive...sound at all like a certain hot-headed goalie?

While I don't have any evidence to pin Quick's troubles on Ranford, it's exciting to imagine an always cool-and-collected 32 waiting out shooters until the last possible second, almost daring opposition to make him spring the coil.

Quick Is Failing 'Cause He's Ailing

Of this, I have even less evidence. All I have is Quick's general decline since Thanksgiving and Darryl Sutter's unusual manuever of playing Jones back to back against the Predators and the Wild right before the holiday.

Asked about this after the Minnesota game, Sutter explained, "On Jonathan’s side...it gives him almost six days." You can jump to the link to see what I left out, I'm not taking the quote out of context. It's clear that the coach wanted to give Quick a long break.

But why would you want to give a goalie who had been playing so well an almost week-long breather? Of course, this is the same coach who just let Trevor Lewis to go third in the shootout.

Looking Ahead

Anyway, there's zero evidence that Quick is dealing with any type of ailment besides his own inconsistency. And an unlucky but sometimes not-so-sharp PK. And strange-but-true deflections. And a depleted blueline.

Here's the good news.

All in all, team defense is succeeding despite the many absences. The puck monopoly is back (currently number-two with a bullet behind the Tampa Bay Lightning in Score Adjusted Corsi For %). Doughty is rocking half the game like Pronger '99. EvenSSS alertSchultz hasn't embarrassed (he and Lewis LEAD THE KINGS in Corsi For % Relative to Team). The boys just might make it until the Trade Deadline and Dean Lombardi's reinforcement(s).

The penalty kill will normalize, as the current garbage fire rates are belied by reasonable underlying numbers. The PK isn't broken, it's just been saddled with some occasional bad play, worse luck, and the complete bottoming out of its most important player.

Who should improve, and soon. He always has. Quick can't possibly keep putting up Washington Generals numbers while playing on the Harlem Globetrotters.

"Up and down" also means up. This is Quick too:

4/15-6/4/12 (2012 Playoffs) 13-2, 1.27 GAA (.950 Sv%)
4/27-6/1/13 (2013 Playoffs) 9-6, 1.57 GAA (.946 Sv%)

All 2014-15 stats as of 1/15/15. Stats courtesy of Hockey AnalysisHockey ReferenceNHL.comPuckalytics, Sporting Charts, and War on Ice.