The Kings considered goaltender Ben Scrivens almost a throw-in when they acquired him from Toronto last June, with winger Matt Frattin and a second-round draft pick, for goalie Jonathan Bernier. Kings executives liked Frattin but were so unsure about Scrivens' ability to capably back up Jonathan Quick that they invited veteran Mathieu Garon to compete for the job in training camp.
Frattin, supposedly the Kings' prize, has been a disappointment. Scrivens, the afterthought, has been thrust into the starting role with the monumental task of keeping the Kings' playoff hopes alive while Quick recovers from a groin injury.
Scrivens got off to a promising beginning Thursday, making 23 saves as the Kings rallied for a 3-2 victory over the New York Islanders at Uniondale, N.Y. But they face a perilous road without Quick, the most valuable player in their 2012 Stanley Cup run and still their foundation.
The muscle strain Quick sustained Tuesday was diagnosed as Grade 2 in severity, meaning he won't need surgery but will be out an estimated four to six weeks. That's a tough blow to a team trying to crack the top eight in the West without scorer Jeff Carter (foot), defenseman Matt Greene (upper-body injury), winger Kyle Clifford (head) and third-line center Jarret Stoll (upper body).
Although it seems like a long time since the Kings won the Cup, Quick remains the key to their fortunes.
His stoicism keeps them calm; his athleticism gives their puck-rushing defensemen the confidence to press forward while knowing he will back them up. If his 2.35 goals-against average and .905 save percentage aren't as stellar as they've been, it's not because he has declined or become complacent after signing a 10-year, $58-million contract extension. His stats reflect the Kings' scramble on defense minus Greene, their loss of shot-blocker Rob Scuderi to free agency, the early struggles of Slava Voynov and constant shuffling up front, as much as they reflect his faults.
Scrivens, who had started only twice for the Kings before Thursday's game, will have to carry the load backed by Martin Jones, the latest of many reinforcements from the Kings' Manchester (N.H.) farm team.
Scrivens has held the No. 1 job before. He made eight straight starts for Toronto last February when James Reimer was sidelined by a knee injury and was 5-3 during that stretch, but he couldn't retain that role. Overall, Scrivens appeared in 20 games, 17 of them starts, and was 7-9-0 with a 2.69 goals-against average and .915 save percentage. Not terrible, but not terribly assuring.
Bernier was fine as Quick's backup, and many fans grumbled even before Quick's injury that General Manager Dean Lombardi should have kept Bernier for just this kind of situation. In an ideal world, Lombardi would have re-signed Bernier. But this is a salary-cap world and Lombardi had to trade him.
It's reasonable to argue that Lombardi didn't get enough for Bernier, but the math of keeping him didn't add up. Bernier was about to become a restricted free agent and was due a raise, which the Kings couldn't squeeze under this season's $64.3-million limit. Lombardi was committed to cap hits of $7 million for defenseman Drew Doughty, $6.8 million for center Anze Kopitar, $5.8 million for Quick, $5.75 million for forward Mike Richards, $5.272 million for Carter and $4.167 million for Voynov. That's nearly $35 million for six players. Bernier signed a two-year, $5.8-million contract with Toronto. Lombardi did well to get the Maple Leafs to retain $500,000 in salary.
Another intriguing aspect of Quick's injury is its potential effect on the U.S. hockey roster for the Sochi Olympics.
Indications were that Quick was the top candidate for the starting job. With no injury to worry about, Team USA's brain trust could have picked a second-tier goalie as the backup — who generally gets few minutes unless the team advances to the medal round or gets eliminated — and a youngster to watch and learn in the No. 3 spot. The far edge of the time frame for Quick's recovery is close to the scheduled Jan. 1 roster announcement but well before the Feb. 12 start of the men's Olympic tournament. But to be safe in Sochi, Team USA executives might now choose another elite starter for the No. 2 job.
There's time to work out the Olympic implications. Now is the time for Scrivens, no longer an afterthought, to carry the Kings through their hours of need.
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