It doesn’t take a genius to know that Jonathan Quick’s 2013 regular season wasn’t as good as it could have been. In fact, if you compared to his 2011-12 campaign, it was, for lack of a better term, terrible.
After single-handedly putting his team into the playoffs last spring and then following it up with one of the greatest goaltending performances in Stanley Cup Playoff history, there was something that slowed the Conn Smythe winner down: off-season back surgery. Now while any type of surgery is crucial, repairing the back stands above the fray as something that could literally derail one’s career no matter how versatile or phenomenal that athlete is. For Los Angeles Kings fans, the fear of the unknown was front-and-center.
Of course, if there was any solace from the NHL Lockout this past fall (and there was very little of it), the Los Angeles Kings knew that the time off would give Jonathan Quick more than enough time to recuperate from his surgery as he would have had to miss the first month of the regular season had it started on time. While the anger from the circumstances of the lockout intensified, Jonathan Quick was resting easy and not having to have been thrown into the fire which I’m sure satisfied Kings fans everywhere – even if they were infuriated at the lack of progress between the NHL and its players association.
When the regular season did start, Jonathan Quick did not look like the Jonathan Quick of old. He was shaky, seemed rattled and was overall uncomfortable getting back into the swing of things. In all fairness, though, the team in front of him didn’t look much better.
With an abbreviated 48-game season, the pressure was enormous. The so-called experts as well as countless know-it-all fans were adamant that a slow start by a team would most likely guarantee missing the playoffs as there was a smaller window to get into the playoffs with the season being cut nearly in half.
Despite the negativity, however, the Kings eventually did turn things around and while Jonathan Quick still wasn’t putting up the numbers so many of us were used to seeing him put up, he was admittedly getting gradually better in between the pipes with each passing game, save a minor setback here and there. It also didn’t hurt that Quick was getting more support from backup Jonathan Bernier who seemed to make relief duty an art form assuming you can call relief duty such a thing.
The Los Angeles Kings redeemed themselves from their slow start to the season and finished fifth in the West. Heading into the playoffs, I was irritated at how the experts at TSN made their picks for their annual Playoff Fantasy Draft without choosing Jonathan Quick.
Despite his ho-hum regular season, he had been better down the stretch and I had the utmost faith that despite his off-season back surgery, he’d elevate his game in the playoffs. After all, he’s done it before.
Despite coughing up the OT-winning goal against the St. Louis Blues in Game 1 of their opening-round series, I knew Quick would rebound. He always did. After all, it was because of Quick’s dominant play that the Kings were able to get to overtime in the first place.
Despite falling behind 2-0 in their series to the Blues, the Kings rebounded and won four-straight to win the series and now await either the Anaheim Ducks or San Jose Sharks. But while guys like Jeff Carter, Anze Kopitar and even Dustin Penner stepped it up, Jonathan Quick was the cornerstone of Los Angeles’s opening-round success.
As for the goaltenders who were picked in TSN’s aforementioned fantasy draft, Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers has been good but not great. His team enters today’s game with the Washington Capitals on the brink of elimination. Speaking of the Caps, Braden Holtby is playing very well (and I’ll be the first to admit that I dismissed him as a viable fantasy pick). Chicago’s Corey Crawford (who experts didn’t take too seriously because of his past playoff performances) was dominant in his team’s opening-round defeat of the Minnesota Wild and Pittsburgh’s Marc-Andre Fleury allowed 14 goals in three games against the New York Islanders before being planted on the bench. His Penguins may be moving on but Fleury will now have to watch from the sidelines.
When I expressed my displeasure about Quick being snubbed in said fantasy draft, many disagreed with me (which is perfectly acceptable) but one fan went so far as to resort to a childish level suggesting that I hadn’t even watched the regular season not mentioning other things that I’m not inclined to repeat. I may not have watched every one of Quick’s performances during the season but I am very familiar with the playoff performances of some of the game’s greatest goaltenders who were so great because, like Quick, they had the ability to elevate their games at the most important times.
I don’t have to educate many on the careers of Patrick Roy, Martin Brodeur or even Eddie Belfour but remember these two names: Bernie Parent and Billy Smith. While both netminders were good, they weren’t great. Parent has a quickness unparalleled to any goaltender of his era. Plus, that white mask he wore made him look like something straight out of a horror movie which would scare the pants of any opposition.
Billy Smith was the grittiest of goaltenders. If players from the 70’s and 80’s had chips on their shoulders, Smith had a crater and that helped him (and his team) win on the biggest stage.
Neither Parent nor Smith put up spectacular regular-season numbers during their careers but both elevated their game in the playoffs and won consecutive Stanley Cups as a result. And just in case you’re wondering whether the NHL took notice to these netminders, they did as both, like Quick, won the Conn Smythe as playoff MVP – with Parent winning the award twice.
It’s also worth noting that neither Parent’s Philadelphia Flyers nor Smith’s New York Islanders had their championship runs ended quietly. While defending champions tend to get bounced in the opening round of the playoffs, both the Flyers and Islanders lost in the Stanley Cup Final where, in all fairness, they respectively lost to the Montreal Canadiens and Edmonton Oilers: arguably the two greatest teams in hockey history.
For their efforts, Bernie Parent and Billy Smith have their numbers hanging from the rafters of their team’s arenas respectively as well as induction into their sport’s ultimate shrine: the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Don’t worry – this isn’t a petition to say that Jonathan Quick should have his number retired or that he should be a lock for the Hall of Fame (yet!). This is to prove that besides earning an actual playoff berth, the regular season is essentially meaningless. If fans and “experts” truly care about the regular season, then they should watch the English Premiership because no one in their right mind gives a flying fig about the regular season on this side of the pond – and for good reason.
The Los Angeles Kings may only have won one playoff round so far but just with that, they’ve accomplished more than the previous three defending Stanley Cup champions and while it has been a collective effort, the team does have Jonathan Quick to thank.
Before the playoffs began, I said Jonathan Quick would pick up his game in the playoffs (like any great goaltender would) and despite the criticism against me, I was right. I’d say I don’t mean to sound arrogant but let’s face it: it’s not arrogance if you actually know what you’re talking about.
And with my voyage to Iceland (the long-time residence of the great Bobby Fischer) fast approaching, I feel it’s only appropriate to end this with two simple words:
Tags: Bernie Parent Billy Smith Bobby Fischer Conn Smythe Eddie Belfour Hockey Hall Of Fame Iceland Jonathan Quick Los Angeles Kings Martin Brodeur New York Islanders Patrick Roy Philadelphia Flyers Playoffs Stanley Cup