AN UNFAMILIAR QUESTION
By Bobby Scribe,
If you asked Kings fans which question would be answered first, “what is the meaning of life?” or “will the Kings ever have a good young goaltending tandem?”, a respectable percentage would answer “the former.” They would cite for you as evidence, in no particular order and by no means a comprehensive list, Jason LaBarbera, Dan Cloutier, Jean Sebastien Aubin, Roman Cechmanek, Frederic Chabot, Jamie Storr, Stephane Fiset, Rob Stauber, and who could ever forget, Rick Knickle.
Enter the 2009-2010 season. Jonathan Quick. 44 games played on a Kings team last season, that wasn’t as talented or deep as this one, with a brand new coach, a new system and lacking leadership, and yet he managed to put up respectable numbers of 21-18-2, .914 SV% and a 2.48 GAA (15th best in the league). Perhaps it is years, no decades, of disappointment that keeps us cautious about too much excitement concerning any goaltender but I dare say that Johnny B. Quick has made optimists out of many of us. He features the qualities we Kings fans usually see and covet in those goaltenders that take their teams deep into the playoffs. He also possesses something we sorely lacked in our last #1 pretender – a relentless work ethic.
Then, we come to Jonathan Bernier. The first name is not all he shares with Quick. Bernier has been the great hope for Kings goaltending since he was drafted in 2006 as the 11th overall. His hybrid stand up and butterfly style brings tremendous lateral movement, agility and reflexes and a calm positional play that gobbles up rebounds and handles the puck with ease. Bernier is battling it out for what most of us believe to be the #2 spot, as Quick, absent the “i” word, has the #1 position locked up.
Last, but not least, is Erik Ersberg. He filled the “gap” between LaBarbera’s exit and Quick’s emergence and brings his own skill set that plays big in net at only a 6 foot, 165 pound frame, and a face that probably gets carded in every bar he enters. Ersberg held his own and showed us that he was a good back up on an otherwise bad Kings team. In front of this team, he will only be better.
With this three-some of good goaltending, and the potential for greatness from the first two, we come to another question of who plays number 2? Bernier comes in with almost no NHL experience but offsets that with a strong finish at the end of last season for the Monarchs with a .910 SV% and 2.40 GAA.
You’re dying to know what I think aren’t you? No? I’ll tell you anyway. It’s time to put Bernier in net. Another season in Manchester will help him develop his game, but Jonathan Bernier needs 15-20 games in the show to help build another aspect of his game – resilience. We all know the talent is there. The question with Bernier is all between his ears and there is no better place to decipher his maturity level and “readiness” than against NHL shots, NHL traffic and NHL adversity. That cool as ice and sharp as a razor style that we have come to see from Quick is what we want to see from Bernier. Ersberg is the safe choice, but Ersberg is not going anywhere. If Bernier falters, Ersberg can take the back up spot. If Bernier shines, then the Kings may be asking another unfamiliar question – “how deep in the playoffs will we go?” God that felt good!