In the young season, Jonathan Quick has been the Kings most consistent player along with Kopitar. Between the two of them, there is one, maybe two wins that we can’t pin squarely on one of their team-carrying shoulders. Kopi has continued on his path of becoming a dominant NHL center in all aspects of the game. The only thing he doesn’t do is punch people, but why should he when he has Simon Gagne to do that for him?

Quick, some may say, is simply ballooning like he does at least once a season. An incredible gust up to be following by a pronounced draft of average. We’ve seen this from Quick before, he conquers the world only to give it back piece by piece. Several reasons have been cited, the most notable of which is being overplayed by Terry Murray. Weaknesses in his game inevitably get pointed out when a bridge falls over the moat and the brick wall cracks.

Regardless, praise has been deservedly heaped heavily upon JQ to start the Kings’ season. He proved unbeatable for the longest stretch of any goalie in team history. He has given up very few questionable goals. Certainly no game has been lost this year as a result of poor goaltending.

Will it continue? Can Quick keep up his pace as one of the top 5 starting goalies in the league?

I think he can, and here’s a big reason why.

The unsung story of the season thus far is Quick’s puck handling. Sure, it’s been mentioned in passing that it has improved, but not enough has been said about the monumental leap he has made in this, the weakest aspect of his game, or the ripple effect it has on the team’s play. We’ve seen Quick improve his shortcomings before. It was just over a year ago that all you had to do was shoot high to beat the goalie who was quicker to drop to his knees than a guilty Christian. You thought I was gonna make a blowjob joke, didn’t you? For shame. Quick worked on this problem and now his glove flashes on a nightly basis to catch the shots that once regularly sailed past him like a porn star dodging her first money shot. You know me better than that.

We also know that Quick is a workhorse in practice, the guy who treats every meaningless wrister like it’s the last he’ll ever face, who prides himself on stopping his own teammates in the morning as he does his opponents the evening. There was several times last season when I wondered if Quick would ever be able to apply that boorish work ethic to his puck handling.

Well here we are nearing the end of 2011, 17 games into the season, 14 of which Quick has started, and not one goal against has been the result of Jonathan mishandling the puck. In the past, by now he would have been good for at least 2-3 goals against from unforgivable turnovers behind the net. The kind of goals that deflate a team and destroy momentum. How quickly we recover from the habit of cringing every time he comes out of the net to play the puck. It is easy to forget the heart attacks we experienced once or more per game when Quick flubbed a pass or bobbled a puck. Silly, how little credit we have heaped upon him for this critical development in his game.

That is truly the purpose of this post, to bring attention to this fact, something we have all noticed but spent little time discussing. It may seem like a small thing, particularly since the prevailing attitude beforehand was that we can tolerate Quick having this flaw because his amazing speed, flexibility and overall ability to keep his team in a game make up for what is ultimately a talent of lesser importance. Brodeur and Turco are really the only goalies in the modern era who ever had their puck handling praised or even pointed out for that matter. Generally this is just something at which a netminder is expected not to suck, and while I am not comparing Quick’s new-found aptitude with his stick to those two, I am saying that this development in his game is manifesting itself in much stronger play overall for both Quick and the team. The importance of Quick now being able to move the puck quickly and accurately to his defensemen regularly should not be underwritten. It both helps the team get started on offense while simultaneously crushing the opponent’s attempt at a forecheck. We can spend other articles combing over the flaws in the system that come after this initial pass, but at the least this once common problem for the team is rectified.

I think the Jonathan Quick we have been seeing is the one we will continue to see, both because of his improvement at puck handling, as well as the reason for it improving in the first place – that determinate work ethic and ability to learn from mistakes. I even believe that if he is grossly overplayed again, to the tune of 70-75+ games, he will have learned from the past that saw him tired out as the season wore on. Like Kopitar before him, I believe we are seeing a player take the strides from being good to achieving greatness.

We may not want the Kings to rely on Quick to win every night. We may crave more goal support. But how lucky are we, to have a guy like Quick who is capable of making almost every game winnable with or without it.