There is a lot of blame to go around for the fact the Kings are down 3-0 to the San Jose Sharks, but the only thing the Kings can change now is their goaltender, plus Steven Stamkos’s chances of playing in the World Championship.
In the wee hours of Wednesday morning – Center of the Universe™ time, of course – your trusty correspondent was crucified in Twitter for suggesting that the Los Angeles Kings should seriously consider starting Martin Jones for Game 4 of their first-round series against the San Jose Sharks.
The critics were pretty evenly split between one camp that insisted that none of the Kings troubles in the first three games could be dropped at Jonathan Quick’s doorstep and a group that worried about what kind of message that would send and whether it would damage his relationship with the Kings moving forward. All in all, the general sentiment could be summed up in the following Tweet: “You’re (expletive) kidding, right?”
No, I’m not. There are a whole host of reasons why the Kings are losing this series so badly. The team that won the Jennings Trophy for giving up the fewest goals during the regular season is stunningly clueless in its own end. One of its biggest advantages over the past couple of years has been its size and ability to physically wear teams down, but the Sharks seem impervious to Dustin Brown and Jarret Stoll throwing their bodies around. And most of all, it’s been remarkable to watch how quickly this team has become a slow, plodding team. Perhaps that’s a byproduct of the style they’ve played and perhaps it’s been exacerbated by the fact that the Sharks are so fast, but the decline has been stunning.
So is it Quick’s fault that the Kings are staring down the barrel of a humiliating first-round sweep? No, but to suggest he has no culpability in this mess and is simply the victim of a team playing badly in front of him is just as ridiculous as placing all the blame on him.
Twenty goaltenders have appeared in the playoffs this spring and only one of them has a worse save percentage than the .852 posted by Quick. He’s allowed 16 goals – yes that’s one-six – in eight periods of work. You can talk all you want about defensive breakdowns, tipped shots and any other analytics you want to apply but that kind of a performance from a No. 1 goalie is inexcusable. An inordinate number of goals are going in high to the blocker side and Quick’s penchant for getting down low to see through traffic has cost him a couple of times in this series. He hasn’t been terrible, but he has not be sharp at all.
This is precisely the time the Kings need Quick to be at his best. They need him to be superhuman and to steal a game or, in this case, a series for them and not only has Quick not been able to do that, he’s responded by playing the worst hockey of his NHL career. There is no escaping that. And that is why the Kings have to start Martin Jones in Game 4.
It wasn’t that long ago that Quick was hurt and the combination of Jones and Ben Scrivens carried the Kings. In fact, if not for the fine play of Jones in particular, the Kings might not even be in the playoffs. When Jones played his first game Dec. 2, the Kings were in sixth place in the Western Conference and by the time he had won his first eight starts, they were in third place, two points ahead of the Sharks and just three behind the Anaheim Ducks.
There’s no guarantee putting Jones in will have the same effect this time around, but it could help the Kings, if for no other reason than it provides them with a rallying point.
My guess is Quick would understand why he’s being pulled. And if he doesn’t and makes an issue of it, then perhaps he’s not the franchise goaltender everyone thinks he is.
STAMKOS FOR WORLDS? As of Wednesday, Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning had not been approached by Hockey Canada to play in the World Championship. If and when he is, chances are he’ll reluctantly turn down the opportunity to represent his country. It’s not that Stamkos wouldn’t welcome the opportunity, especially after missing the Olympics. But Stamkos has had some lingering issues associated with the surgery he had on his broken leg and even though he may want to play, those around him will almost certainly suggest he take a pass. You’d have to think that Canada would want to extend invitations to Alex Killorn and Teddy Purcell, though.
Actually, the team that most benefits from the Lightning’s early exit would be the Czechs, who now have access to Ondrej Palat, Radko Gudas and Andrej Sustr. Victor Hedman would look good on Sweden’s blueline, but will he be eager to play for his country after being snubbed for the Olympic team? Tyler Johnson and Ryan Callahan will get the call from USA and Valtteri Filppula will be approached by Finland.
And with both the Lightning and its American League affiliate in Syracuse out of the playoffs, Olympic hero Kristers Gudlevskis will be available to backstop Latvia. That would mean he’d become the first player ever to play in the ECHL, AHL, NHL, the Olympics and the World Championship in the same year.