Kings goalie’s emphasis on weight loss shapes up his game
The numbers that relegated Kings goaltender Jason LaBarbera to second-tier status weren’t his goals-against average or save percentage.
LaBarbera, usually steady and occasionally exceptional, sabotaged his chances to excel by carrying too much weight and too high a body-fat percentage on his 6-foot-3 frame.
His mass allowed him to cover a lot of net, but his bulkiness hampered his lateral movement. He knew it but couldn’t motivate himself to do anything about it.
“It’s always kind of been a black cloud over me, I think, my whole career,” he said. “I’ve always dealt with it, but I’ve always played with it.
“I’m getting older, where it’s one of those things where you’ve got to start looking at that, and maybe it will make a big difference.”
Early this year he turned 28, not too late for a goalie to raise his game but fast approaching the failed-promise zone. The additional pressure of competing against younger rivals Jonathan Bernier, Erik Ersberg and Jonathan Quick finally inspired LaBarbera to get smart and get in shape.
This summer, while rehabilitating after sports hernia surgery, LaBarbera hired a nutritionist who cooked healthy meals for him and apportioned them in smaller quantities than he was used to.
“It’s not that I ate bad. I would eat too much,” he said. “It’s hard not to. Coming from a family like I come from, you always had to eat what was in front of you.”
Instead of stuffing himself three times a day this summer, he pulled a precooked meal out of his refrigerator every few hours. He lost 10 pounds and 7 percentage points in body fat but gained a ton of self-assurance.
If LaBarbera has a lean and hungry look, it’s because he craves wins, not mountains of mashed potatoes.
“I see it in his eyes that he feels good about himself,” General Manager Dean Lombardi said.
LaBarbera didn’t distinguish himself Monday in giving up four goals on 17 shots over the first 40 minutes of the Kings’ 6-4 split-squad victory over the Phoenix Coyotes, but here’s some food for thought:
It was the Kings’ first exhibition game, LaBarbera’s first game since last Feb. 18, and Phoenix scored twice on power plays. LaBarbera may need time to regain his rhythm, but his newly fit physique gives him a fighting chance at soon tasting success.
“I haven’t felt this good in my whole life,” he said. “I know I can be a great goalie for this team.
“I felt like last year I was definitely good at times and there were times that I struggled, like everyone else. The biggest thing between a good goalie in this league and a great goalie is consistency. Last year was one of those up-and-down years and I just need to find that consistency at this level.
“I know I can do it. The atmosphere around here right now is just so much better than what we had last year. It’s more exciting, more exuberant. Everyone’s young and we all have something to prove, I think.”
LaBarbera may have more to prove than anyone in camp.
He had a four-game winning streak in October but lost six straight in December, though his teammates scored more than two goals in his support only once during that skid.
He was 7-5-1 in January but suffered an apparent groin injury on Feb. 18. He underwent hernia surgery in March and didn’t play again, finishing with a record of 17-23-2, a goals-against average of 3.00 and save percentage of .910.
While he was recovering, first in El Segundo and later at home in Calgary, he began his new diet.
“It made a world of difference. I felt so much better,” he said. “I didn’t feel bloated and lethargic.”
Having endured a couple of bad seasons here -- and a season spent in the minors because of arcane waiver rules -- LaBarbera hopes he will be here when better days arrive.
He believes that will happen soon -- and it would have to, because he’s in the last year of his contract. He can accelerate the process if he has a solid season.
“There’s so much talent in this room it’s so ridiculous,” he said, glancing at his teammates in the Kings’ locker room.
“The biggest thing for me is I just want to be consistent this year and be that guy that I have been my whole life, which is being a reliable rock back there.”
Helene Elliott can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To read previous columns by Elliott, go to latimes.com/elliott.