In goaltender Jonathan Quick's second start for the Kings this season, he was yanked after yielding four goals to Winnipeg on 27 shots. In his third start he gave up a blooper goal to the New York Rangers when he dropped his stick and a dump-in deflected off his blocker.
Quick's save percentage in October was .903, not good enough for the 2012 Stanley Cup playoff most valuable player or the low-scoring Kings. The groin injury he suffered on Nov. 12 at Buffalo seemed to continue steering his season downhill.
Fast-forward to March, when Quick made what might be the NHL's save of the season against Winnipeg's Blake Wheeler with an on-his-belly back-kick Saturday while leading the Kings to their 14th victory in 17 games. During that span, Quick was 11-2 with a 1.67 goals-against average, .932 save percentage and two shutouts. Since returning from injured reserve — and before a 3-2 loss to Minnesota on Monday — he was 16-10-2 with a 1.89 goals-against average and .923 save percentage.
But ask Quick if he thinks he's playing as well as he ever has, and his frown suggests he just failed to stop a beach ball.
"No, it could be a lot better," he said.
If it appears his game is coming together after the injury and a stint with the U.S. Olympic team, that's for others to judge.
"I wouldn't say that. I'd say there are things you need to continue to work on," he said. "We're going to keep working and trying to get better. We're not officially in the top eight yet."
Quick, 28, remains a man of few words, many saves, and an admirable work ethic … an ideal formula for the Kings.
"He has accountability for his game and he wants to get better," goaltending coach Bill Ranford said. "I think that's what makes him one of the best in the world, the fact that he does have a lot of accountability for his game. He realizes when he has off nights or makes mistakes and he tries to correct them for the next one."
Ranford said he "didn't mind" Quick's play before the injury. "We kind of lost our way a little bit defensively and were giving up more chances than we usually do and that's going to happen at times," Ranford said.
And he certainly has no quarrel with Quick's performance since then, including that acrobatic save against Wheeler.
"He's got a lot of compete in him and you do what you can to stop the puck," Ranford said. "That one wasn't easy to do, but that's just the mentality that he has — whatever you can throw at it, you throw at it."
That mentality has given Quick the chance to turn a bad beginning into a happy playoff ending.
Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby has accomplished so much — he's running off with his second scoring title, is contending for his second MVP award, and has won the Stanley Cup once and two Olympic gold medals — it's surprising to realize he has never played a full, 82-game schedule.
He played 81 games twice but hasn't come close recently because of concussion-related problems. He played 41 games in 2010-11, 22 games in 2011-12, and 36 of 48 games in last season's lockout-shortened schedule.
Given his concussion history, it's remarkable Crosby has played all of Pittsburgh's games and the Olympics this season — and at a high level. But he doesn't see it as the feat it is.
"You just play," he told The Times last week. "I've always tried to take care of myself and you train in the off-season to be strong and hopefully play a full season and sometimes it doesn't work out that way. In my case it's happened a lot that it hasn't. You just try to play the same way every night and play hard and trust that will get you through it."
He said he feels fine, as his 36 goals and 99 points attest. "It's always a grind this time of year, whether you've had the Olympics or not," he said. "I think this time of year is always a little bit tougher and as you get closer to the end of the season you start to know what's coming and that adrenaline picks up a bit more."
Penguins Coach Dan Bylsma has no intention of resting Crosby before the playoffs.
"I think Sid remembers too well not playing all the games in a season and, I think, cherishes playing every game," Bylsma said. "Whether it's 82 or 78, he's been there for us all year long.
"I got a plaque for playing all 82 games one time. I used it in the winter to make sure my tires didn't slide in the driveway."
Kings defenseman Drew Doughty, Crosby's Canadian Olympic teammate, praised his mental strength. "It doesn't seem like he's playing like he's scared or anything, because he's leading the league in points and he's still the best player in the league. Seems fine to me," Doughty said. "It's good for the league, too, if he plays every game."