In a shocking surprise, Kings have a surplus of standout goalies

The Kings spent most of their history dealing with instability in the net. That has changed now with the development of Jonathan Quick, Martin Jones and others.

For decades the Kings simply couldn't draft and develop an elite goaltender.

Their two best goalies were established players acquired through trades: Rogie Vachon was a three-time Stanley Cup champion when the Kings got him from Montreal in November 1971, and Kelly Hrudey had 241 games of NHL experience when the Kings got him from the New York Islanders in February 1989.

Some goalies the Kings drafted never reached the NHL. Some played a few games. Some found success elsewhere: Billy Smith, a 1970 fifth-round pick, was claimed by the Islanders in the 1972 expansion draft and won four titles with them.

The Kings hit the depth of their goaltending futility in 2007-08 — General Manager Dean Lombardi's second season — when they deployed seven goalies. "When I got here we talked about building from the back, and that was brought up to me numerous times," Lombardi said.

All of which makes the Kings' current goaltending excellence mind-boggling, especially to fans who recall the Robb Stauber, Roman Cechmanek, Dan Cloutier or Yutaka Fukufuji eras.

The Kings, who led the NHL with a 1.82 team goals-against average through Sunday's games, have become a goalie factory. Shrewd drafting, plus fine work by goaltending coach Bill Ranford and goaltender development specialist Kim Dillabaugh, are key reasons the Kings haven't lost a beat since 2012 playoff MVP Jonathan Quick pulled a groin muscle Nov. 12. Quick was succeeded by off-season acquisition Ben Scrivens and, lately, undrafted rookie Martin Jones.

"Somebody told me once whether you're training a hockey player, a doctor, a mechanic or a huntin' dog, the most important thing is to have talented pupils that work hard and can accept criticism," Lombardi said.

A huntin' dog?

"You ever try to train a hunting dog, like my grandfather used to do? It's the same thing," Lombardi said. "First of all the dog had to have talent and good breeding. And then you have some dogs that don't want to work. They literally don't want to work. And the other thing is, when you're working them they've got to accept criticism. Some dogs won't change."

Not that he's comparing humans to dogs.

"I'm talking about the process of being a student, teachers with students," Lombardi said. "Then the other part, it's a two-way street. It takes good teachers that not only know their subject but know how to teach. And I think those guys, most importantly they care about them as people, not only in terms of becoming a hockey player."

Quick, a third-round pick in 2005, vaulted past Jonathan Bernier (first round, 2006) to become the organization's top goalie. With Jones incubating in Manchester (N.H.) of the American Hockey League, the Kings let Jeff Zatkoff (third round, 2006) leave as a free agent in 2012. Zatkoff has a six-game winning streak for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

When Bernier became a restricted free agent, the Kings couldn't keep him but needed a backup with a reasonable contract. Scrivens, who can be a free agent next summer, has worked diligently with both goalie coaches. When he faltered, Jones came in to win his first eight decisions. Behind Jones is J.F. Berube (fourth round, 2009), who has started 17 straight games for Manchester and has a 2.30 goals-against average and .923 save percentage.

Lombardi said Ranford and Dillabaugh remind him of the late Warren Strelow, the goalie coach for the 1980 U.S. Olympic team and several NHL teams. Strelow is credited with developing Evgeni Nabokov, Miikka Kiprusoff and Vesa Toskala, among others. Strelow and Lombardi worked together in San Jose when Lombardi was the Sharks' general manager.

"Billy and Kim, there's a lot of Warren Strelow in them. I see a lot of similarities in the way they approach things, the relationships they develop with their students," Lombardi said.

"If you look at both sides of this equation, they're both role models as teachers and students. I don't know what went on here before, but that's the one constant in all these goalies I see in front of me."

The other constant is excellence, a novel change after decades of goaltending nightmares.

Slap shots

Boston forward Shawn Thornton's appeal of his 15-game suspension for attacking Pittsburgh's Brooks Orpik was heard Friday by Commissioner Gary Bettman. A ruling is expected after Christmas. If the ban is upheld — and it should be — Thornton can appeal to an independent arbitrator.

Kevin Dineen hoped for another coaching opportunity after the Florida Panthers fired him last month and got one by taking an unconventional path: He's coaching the Canadian women's Olympic team for the Sochi Games. His predecessor, Dan Church, resigned Dec. 12 citing a lack of trust in his ability to win a fourth straight gold medal. Dineen had a rocky start, as Team USA beat Canada, 4-1, on Friday.

Ailing Phoenix forward Shane Doan has a form of Rocky Mountain fever, according to Coyotes General Manager Don Maloney. Doan has responded to medication but there's no timetable for his return. ... Nashville Predators goalie Pekka Rinne will need at least two more weeks to recover from a hip infection. ... Columbus forward Marian Gaborik broke his collarbone Saturday and was placed on injured reserve.

The roster freeze that began Thursday will extend through midnight local time Friday with respect to waivers, trades and loans.


Twitter: @helenenothelen