Jonathan Quick has always thought he should stop every shot that comes at him, which is admirable but hardly realistic.
Through 12 seasons, two Stanley Cup championships, one Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player in the playoffs and twice winning the Jennings Trophy for playing on the team that allowed the fewest goals, Quick’s feistiness hasn’t faded.
It doesn’t matter if the puck was turned over in front of him or it deflected off someone’s leg or stick and changed direction: the Kings goaltender takes it personally when the puck gets past him, and more than a few innocent sticks and goal posts have felt his wrath.
Quick had plenty of occasions to be angry last season, when the team’s defense collapsed and he posted dismal personal numbers with a .888 save percentage and 3.38 goals-against average. He easily could have thrown teammates under the bus. Instead, he took responsibility in even the worst of circumstances — and there were many of those in a season whose only virtue is that it’s over.
“The No. 1 thing about Quickie is he’s never, ever, ever going to look at his defensemen and say, ‘What are you doing there?’ Never,” defenseman Drew Doughty said. “Never once has he said, ‘You screened me,’ or, ‘Get out of the way.’ Never, not one time in his life.
“You see other guys around the league throw their hands up when their D-man is screening them and the puck goes in. You’ll never in a million years see Quickie do that. And if there’s a handoff behind the net and it’s clearly one of the D-men’s fault, Quickie is going to pipe up and say it was his fault, when it wasn’t. That’s just the type of guy he is.”
True to form, Quick said he never felt he’d been abandoned last season while the Kings shredded their identity as a staunch defensive team.
“I’ll tell you first and foremost I wasn’t nearly good enough. For me to point out mistakes on anyone else would be ridiculous,” he said. “I know I have to be better for these guys. I think when I can do that, it calms everyone down and allows them to play their game. I’ve got to be better for them, and it goes from there.”
For the Kings to be better Quick must be better, and for that to happen, he must be free of the groin and lower-body injuries that have plagued him the last few seasons. He played only 17 games in 2016-17 and, after undergoing knee surgery, played 46 games last season.
Goaltending coach Bill Ranford said he and Quick discussed “some small adjustments in his game that we wanted to do just to take a little strain off his body,” and Quick has been getting sharper during training camp while meeting Ranford’s milestones.
Ranford was smart enough not to tinker with Quick’s mind-set. “That’s what makes a No. 1 guy a No. 1 guy,” Ranford said. “You kind of take the approach that no puck is unstoppable, even though we realize it is at times. I think he’s just always looking for a way to prevent it from going in the net, so he gets upset with himself if it’s a bad read on his part or it doesn’t go where it’s supposed to go.
“But the bottom line is he’s paid to stop the puck and that’s what he loves to do.”
Quick does more than stop the puck, and that’s why his success in regaining his old form is crucial to the Kings’ rebuilding process.
The emergence of Jack Campbell — one of Ranford’s best reclamation projects — and of Cal Petersen, who displayed immense promise in 11 NHL games last season, triggered speculation the Kings might trade Quick if they find a taker for a contract that carries a $5.8-million annual salary cap hit through the 2022-23 season. But there are other considerations to weigh.
As new coach Todd McLellan soon learned, Quick has extra value here because of his history and his place at the heart of the team. Take him out of the mix and the chemistry will change unpredictably. “I didn’t realize he was as much an alpha on this team as he is,” McLellan said. “He does have a presence and he does carry himself around his teammates.”
Those teammates believe Quick will rebound this season. “He’s a battler. He’s a hell of a goalie. He’s one of the best goalies in the league. We’re not worried about Quickie at all,” Doughty said. “What we should be worrying about is the team in front of him because we left him out to dry a lot last year and I wouldn’t say his numbers had anything to do with his performance.”
Quick can’t turn the Kings around by himself, and he shouldn’t have to. He said he liked the upbeat atmosphere and brisk tempo during training camp, creating an optimistic start to what still looms as a long season.
“Our most successful years have been when we take care of our own end. It starts with goaltending obviously, and then with a group of five playing well in our own end,” Quick said. “It’s something that we want to get back to, that and the penalty kill creating momentum for us and keeping them off the board when we have the opportunity.
“The past few years there’s been changes but our job is simply, just gotta stop the puck.”
No matter what happens, he won’t stop shouldering the blame, warranted or not.