While the 2017-18 season ended with more of a whimper than Kings fans hoped for, we still learned a lot about the team, its players, and the direction for the future. Over the course of the next month, we’ll dive into the Kings’ roster and take a look at what worked, what didn’t work, and what things might look like in the coming season. Today, we’re taking a look at Jonathan Quick’s year of redemption.
During this recent run of success for the Los Angeles Kings, systems and team-play were always the first things pointed to as impetus for their dominance. 2017-18 was a bit of an anomaly in that sense, as standout individual performances carried the team to a playoff appearance. While most would point to career seasons from Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown, along with another Norris-worthy performance out of Drew Doughty, Jonathan Quick quietly had one of the best seasons of his career.
Quick, of course, missed most of the previous season after injuring his groin on opening night. While he bounced back and played well at the end of the season, it was too late for the Kings, who missed the playoffs for the second time in three years. Questions about Quick’s ability to remain healthy and perform at a high level clouded last offseason. The Kings themselves must have had some concern, recruiting veteran Darcy Kuemper not only as a back-up, but as insurance in the event that Quick suffered another injury.
Turns out, rumors of his demise were greatly exaggerated. Among qualified starters (at least 2,000 minutes played), Quick’s .921 save percentage was sixth in the league. He played a pivotal role in the Kings’ league-leading penalty killing unit, posting a short-handed .895 save percentage. Showing he could still make the acrobatic saves with the best of them, he was seventh in the league with a .815 high-danger save percentage.
Despite a systemic shift focused on offense, the Kings still managed to lead the league in goals-against, earning Quick his second Jennings Trophy. He also finished ninth in the Vezina voting, the sixth time he he has finished in the top-ten.
If there is one tragedy we can point to in Quick’s statement season, it is that his heroic playoff performance will likely be under-appreciated and soon forgotten. With the Kings banged-up and overmatched against the Vegas Golden Knights, Quick kept the Kings in every game, allowing only six goals in the four-game sweep. He very nearly helped turn the series in game 2, making 54 saves behind the Kings depleted defense (remember, no Drew Doughty, Jake Muzzin or Derek Forbort in that game) before finally letting one sneak by near the end of the second overtime.
Should we expect regression after one of Quick’s best seasons at age-32? You would have to wager yes, of course. Though that is not necessarily a given. Despite cries of “overrated” from both opposing fans and esteemed members of the analytics community, Quick is sixth in 5v5 save percentage over the last four seasons (ninth in overall SV%) and observationally looks as nimble as ever. That 35 year-old Pekke Rinne just earned a Vezina nod should also offer some encouragement.
Quick, of course, will not be shouldering the load all by himself. While he was sixth in the league in games played, his 63 starts were the smallest workload in any of his full seasons since 2010-11. Kuemper played very well in his stead, but it was the surprisingly effective play of Jack Campbell that allowed Rob Blake to trade his veteran back-up and add depth to the forward corps.
It was a bold move, as Campbell was merely adequate with the Ontario Reign in the AHL, posting a .912 save percentage in 26 games. Jack rewarded their faith, going 2-0-2 with a .924 save percentage in his four starts. After a long journey that began as a first-round pick in 2010, the 26 year-old rookie will finally get an opportunity to prove he belongs in the NHL.
The Kings are confident that their famous goaltending factory - led by Bill Ranford and Dusty Imoo - have Campbell ready for prime time after some rocky seasons in his minor league career. But in case he stumbles or an injury necessitates it, old friend Peter Budaj will be stashed with the Reign, ready to answer the bell.
With the Kings’ defense skewing younger these days, the goaltending will once again have to be the backbone to their success. Jack Campbell has something to prove, while top prospect Cal Peterson will be chomping at the bit with the Reign, looking to get his first taste of NHL action. For now, Jonathan Quick appears to be up to the task of keeping the Kings’ fortunes upon his shoulders.