First it was Pavel Zacha. Then Blake Coleman.
During the first period Saturday in Newark, N.J., both New Jersey Devils forwards flew toward the Kings’ net all alone. Both tried going backhand on Kings goalie Cal Petersen, playing his first NHL game this season and only the 12th of his career. Both were denied by the Kings’ potential netminder of the future.
Up until the Kings traded Jack Campbell to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday, Petersen had spent this season with the Reign, the Kings’ American Hockey League affiliate, completing the hockey equivalency of his master’s degree.
The 25-year-old third-season pro was the pupil. Matt Millar, the Reign’s first-year goaltending development coach, was the professor. Together, they strived to perfect the prospect’s promising game.
“He’s at a point where it wasn’t anything major,” Millar said. “Maybe one or two little tweaks to try and push him over the edge.”
Petersen’s not quite there yet. After his pair of first-period breakaway saves Saturday, he allowed three goals during a five-minute stretch in the second period — though he wasn’t solely culpable on any of them — en route to the Kings’ 3-0 loss to the Devils.
However, on a night in which he made 31 saves and kept the Kings (who squandered 37 shots of their own) within striking distance down the stretch, Petersen offered up more reason for optimism about the team’s future in net.
“Quite happy with his play,” coach Todd McLellan told Fox Sports West. “He made some real good saves. Even on the goals, I don’t think we could fault him on any of them. He had a real solid night coming in. It’s like a pitcher. You can almost throw a perfect game and lose.”
Petersen hardly looked out of place during an 11-game cameo with the Kings last season, when he recorded a 2.61 goals-against average and .924 save percentage. So when Millar joined the Kings this past offseason, he knew no major overhaul for Petersen was needed. Instead, when Millar visited Petersen in Minnesota over the summer, they outlined a routine designed to round out Petersen’s skill-set.
“He really wanted to bring a little bit more rebound control to his game,” Millar said. “Wanted to get a little more consistent with his positioning. As you go up levels, there are less and less breakdowns. He wanted to be reliable on a lot of the small stuff.”
The fifth-round draft pick and Notre Dame alumnus received plenty of opportunities too. In 37 games with a young Reign team, Petersen led the AHL in saves and posted a 3.43 goals-against average while routinely facing 30-plus shots each night. Sometimes, he would face several breakaways and odd-man rushes each period. It was trial by fire. Millar thinks it helped forge some of the fine details Petersen was hungry to master.
“He would go into games knowing he needed to be the best version of himself to give us a chance to win,” Millar said. “I think that’s a pretty unique pressure.”
Now, with Campbell out the door, Petersen’s path to a full-time NHL role has never been more clear.
“He’s a very good goalie,” Kings general manager Rob Blake said this past week. “He’s been able to establish himself as one of the top goalies in the American league. We understood the eventual plan for him to get up here. We just felt the need this year to get him into NHL games as the season progresses. There was a need ... to get him into this lineup.”
Harris reported from Tempe, Ariz.