Quick's best season comes in trial by fire
One of the best technically and natural skill wise, now he shows some massive mental toughness.
--Justin Goldman, Live Notebook, Quick vs. Luongo
This was a season few expected of Jonathan Quick. Under extraordinary pressure, with goal support at or near the bottom of the league for most of his games, Quick turned in a Vezina caliber performance (35 wins, .929 SV%, 1.95 GAA), far outstripping his previous seasons as a #1.
How did he do it?
Mental composure is a key to every goaltender's success, but we rarely get a window into a goalie's true mind-set. He can't tell reporters what he really feels and thinks. He must project calm and deny frustration. So when we want to answer questions like "How did he handle the pressure to be perfect every single night? What did he do to push himself to the next level?" I like to turn to insight from his goalie coach, Bill Ranford.
Dealing with Frustration
One of the few occasions Quick became visibly upset this season came on the eve of the All-Star break, during a tough 3-1 loss to the Colorado Avalanche. The teams were ranked 7th and 8th at the time. Instead of gaining ground with a big home win, the opportunity slipped through their fingers.
It had been a 2-1 game until a penalty late in the third allowed the Avs to score again. With the loss all but certain, Quick lashed out at Daniel Winnik and took another penalty with two minutes left. Sutter said that it was the first time he'd seen Quick do something like that.
His teammates apologized, assuming his frustrations stemmed--quite justifiably--from a lack of support. Quick claimed to be angry at his own failures to save stoppable shots.
The incident passed, and after the All Star Game, Quick resumed his steady play. But the aftermath of that loss yielded some of the year's most interesting quotes. Some choice ones appear in this excellent article by Helene Elliott in the Times.
"We're not talking about it, basically"
What does a goalie do when his forwards can't freakin' score? Ranford's advice: put it out of your mind.
"We're not talking about it, basically," said Bill Ranford, the Kings' goaltending coach and a two-time Stanley Cup champion.
"The approach that we're taking is worry about doing your job stopping the puck, and that's all you really have to worry about because if you start thinking about that, then it will start to wear on you."
Quick has clearly embraced this approach. It surfaces time after time in his post-game interviews: his focus is on his own play. Control what you can control.
"Over the course of the year that's the approach you need because you're going to see so many shots. You're going to get those bounces that are bad, and teams are going to have times that they're struggling to score and they're going to have times that they're scoring in bunches. It's extremely necessary to approach each shot with a clean slate. I have to stop this shot and then we'll worry about the next, no matter what the score is, no matter what the time of the year is."
Quick had always had talent and natural athletic ability. This season he became better than ever at maintaining his focus. With the way he Kings were scoring, he needed every bit of it.
Work Ethic and Maturity
In many ways, it Quick's evolution was born from unreasonable demands. In others, it was a step forward he absolutely had to take.
Quick is 26 years old, the age most goalies hit their prime. He'd had AHL seasoning, and a couple of years of NHL experience under his belt. But up until this season, his best save percentage was only league average. More importantly to the Kings, he hadn't yet put it all together in the playoffs. Bernier, at just 23, was a real threat to his job.
The last, best tidbit that surfaces in this interview is that Ranford sees a difference in Quick's preparation. His focus is not just better in the games, but also in practice.
"There's no doubt there's a maturity aspect of things in the way he approaches things," Ranford said. "He was the type of guy that would come out for practice some days and just goof off and I'd have to reel him in and say, 'You know what? We don't want to start picking up bad habits.' And you don't see a lot of that with him anymore."
He's taken the next step to become a true professional.
We saw the results in round one: he stopped 95% of the shots he faced to earn a series win. But even now, with all the award talk and the accolades pouring in, his focus is on the next round, and the next game: "That's not the trophy I set out to win. We still have a shot at the other one."
His focus is spectacular. And that's why he deserves the Vezina.