Browsing the Kings-multi-verse on the interweb over the last day, a divisive question has risen from the depths of Kingsdom panicky impatience.
Perhaps the first Kings team in almost a decade to excite fans to realistic playoff fantasy has them confused as to how long a hockey season is or what to expect from the team as a whole. Or maybe enduring too many seasons of Jason LaBarbera and Dan Cloutier has them precariously teetering on the edges of post-tramautic-goalie-stress disorder.
As our recent poll indicates, the majority of fans are anxious to bring up Manchester goalie Jonathan Bernier the second Jonathan Quick misses a step, or more precisely, a stoppable shot. For every innocent blueline flutter-puck that finds its way behind Quick, some fans are inclined to believe Bernier would have made the save.There are two key issues here that need discussing.
One is whether Quick’s play has been bad enough to warrant having his job as #1 goalie put under the microscope. The other is whether Bernier is better off in the AHL or the NHL. Let’s address the first issue.
Has Quick been bad? He sure has let in a few bad goals. Terry Murray has said as much. Most recently when asked about John Madden’s goal last night against the Blackhawk’s to open the game’s scoring, Murray said “We need to have those stops. Playing on the road in a hostile environment, we need to have the routine stops.” It certainly sounds like Murray thinks Quick could be better, as do I. But that wasn’t the question.
Has Quick been bad? Absolutely not. Quick has been well above average, far from bad. Any goalie at or near the top of the NHL’s W column is doing something right. The play of Kopitar means nothing without big saves and good defense, just ask Ilya Kovalchuk how much his huge goal totals and offensive output have meant to the Thrashers throughout several playoff-less seasons.
While Quick has not stolen a game for the Kings the way a morally obtuse thief steals food for those who can not feed themselves, he has provided directions and currency for the Kings to buy as many loafs of bread as they like. Unfortunately, as we have seen in the last two games, sometimes the Kings get lost and distracted on their way to the market or, worse yet, decide to detour down skid row and use their goalie cash for queludes instead of the vitamins for tenacious play on the puck that wins them hockey games.
I am not a numbers guy and prefer to break down specific situations. Let’s take last nights forgettable loss to the Blackhawks, since unfortunately it is too recent to have completely banished it from our memories. The Madden goal was soft. Quick did not move in one piece, likely flustered by Jack Johnson’s odd timing to turn and chase Madden down the wing. This is an issue for goaltending coach Bill Ranford to work on with Quick in practice. He knows how to do it, but he lapsed and boom, team is down by a goal. No matter, the Kings got that one back rather quickly. Quick followed up with the necessary saves. Doughty followed up with an unnecessary penalty at the end of the period.
To start the third, Quick made a couple of saves while the penalty killers allowed both Troy Brouwer and Patrick Sharp too much space to move. Quick let in a tough deflection. Brouwer was not covered at all. Put a stick on his back and that perfect deflection is not so perfect.
Oh well, down 2-1 and nearly a whole period left to play. Been there, won that game. All it takes is a bounce or two, bounces that only happen when battles for loose pucks are won and King sticks stay heavy on the ice. That did not happen. Sticks were as loose as the pucks in the board battles the Kings weren’t winning. Sometimes there was no battle as several Kings’ players failed to hustle and close gaps between Chicago’s forwards. The Hawks won the battles and as a direct result the Hawks got the bounces. Toews was sprung to wander as freely in front of Quick as Frolov likely will around the league come July. Quick doesn’t make the big save. Would have been nice. It also wouldn’t have mattered. The Kings had already lost the game. They had lost the game the minute they stopped fighting for and keeping loose pucks. Andrew Ebbets lucky goal was just punishment for a game deservedly lost.
If the Kings had come out of the dressing room with fire and passion in the third period, fought and battled and played even with the Hawks, and THEN Quick let’s in a soft goal like Matt Fistric’s bouncing blueline slapper against Dallas earlier in the year, by all means, say Quick lost us the game. If the Kings had tied up the game when they had the chance and Quick had let in a third go ahead goal, please, say it was his fault. If anything had happened other than the Kings’ skaters playing as discombobulated as a blind mouse in a pinball machine, then be my guest in blaming Jonathan Quick. Seriously, I will host.
None of those things happened. You can cut and paste the names and details for the Saturday snooze against the Nashville Predators. It was virtually the same game but against a more exciting and dynamic team.
Bobby Scribe, in his unwavering positivity has mentioned it before that when this team plays well, as a unit and with the healthy anxiety of a beaver gathering the last pieces of wood for a dam, they can, have and will beat anybody.
This team is good and Jonathan Quick is a big reason they are so good.
Now, what about Bernier?
Our other Johnny boy is tearing the AHL to shreds. He has been since the end of last season, when he finally realized he is a hockey player who gets paid to play where and when his employer tells him to play and that he nobody owes him a damn thing. With entitlement issues out of the way, Kings fans are getting their first glance at the guy who they hope will one day lift the Stanley Cup over his head on Staples Center ice (providing he doesn’t hit a rut and fall over, shattering the Cup as ice in Southern California strikes its final act of cruelty – OK, bad joke). Personally I am very excited to see Bernier test his metal against NHL shots, screens and deflections. I think most Kings fans have high hopes and strong belief in Bernier to lead this team, with or without Quick well into the future. That is not the question. The question is when.
Certainly not now. While Bernier may be proving the AHL is little challenge for a goalie of his caliber, his head is still just a piece of coal. When it becomes a diamond, he will be ready. Dean Lombardi has often said his method and preference is to keep young goalies in the minors for two seasons. I have not had the chance to pick Dean’s brain personally (yet), but I am confident in presuming this is not out of a sense of punishment or sadistic torture. It is not even as simple as what some find to be an archaic notion of paying one’s dues. What I firmly believe is the logic behind this method is that a goalie faces a unique challenge in all of sports when it comes to mental preperation.
Of course all pro athletes face varying degrees of cognitive hell during a season, no other position boasts the challenge of being on the ice for the entire duration of a game. It takes a special kind of crazy to want to be the last line of defense and a specific kind of weird to be successful at it. Bernier has yet to prove that he can maintain the game between his ears for an entire season, and until he does that in the AHL, he is not ready for the NHL.
Might he be able to handle the added NHL pressure? He may. Is it worth the risk if he isn’t? I have to say no. With the lofty expectations placed on Bernier’s young shoulders, his best chance at helping to take the Kings into uncharted waters is if he can first do it at the minor league level. It is not even so important that he puts up dominant numbers, but rather that he is resilient and puts up a dominant attitude. Bernier has only just passed his first few pop quizzes. He hasn’t even taken the mid-term and I would like to wait until he passes the final before going on to graduate school.
Say what you will about Dean Lombardi. Be unhappy with him for many things, whether it is his playoff record, handling of Cammalleri and O’Sullivan, attitude or free agent signings, whatever. One thing you can not question is that he has turned out three NHL goaltenders, four if we now count Quick. Let the man do his thing. Let Bernier simmer and gel and mold in to the elite number 1 NHL goalie we all believe lay dormant within him.
Bernier’s time will come. It is a long season. Quick’s season.
I’ve said my piece. What’s yours?
Categories: L.A. Kings News