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Kings’ goaltending situation looks dire as Zatkoff suffers lower-body injury in practice

Other teams may be dealing with a banged up player or two, but lower-body injuries to both Jonathan Quick and Jeff Zatkoff have the Kings facing a serious obstacle in the early season.

At least for the time being, the Los Angeles Kings appeared to be willing to be patient with their goaltending situation regardless of the long-term injury suffered by starting netminder Jonathan Quick, and the hope was that backup Jeff Zatkoff would be able to get the job done in the interim.

That may no longer be the case, though, and not because the Kings don’t have faith in Zatkoff’s ability.

During practice Saturday, Zatkoff, 29, appeared to injure his leg and needed to be helped off the ice by teammates, and the Kings announced shortly after practice that Zatkoff has indeed suffered a lower-body injury. According to the Los Angeles Times’ Lisa Dillman, Zatkoff is doubtful for Saturday’s game against the Vancouver Canucks and it sounds as though Jack Campbell will be called up from the AHL’s Ontario Reign to replace Zatkoff in the lineup.

While it’s still early and there’s no timeline for a possible return for Zatkoff, that there’s even a chance he could be out long-term makes this a potential worst-case scenario for the Kings.

If Zatkoff is out long-term, the most likely scenario sees Peter Budaj take the reins in goal, but the 34-year-old isn’t a long-term solution for the Kings. Despite picking up a victory in his first full game of the season, Budaj has a 2.22 goals-against average and .897 save percentage in 80 minutes of work this season. For his career, his numbers are much the same, as he boasts a 2.76 GAA and .903 SP across 300 games.

It was bad enough that Quick had found himself on the injured list, but given Los Angeles’ cap situation, losing Zatkoff puts the Kings in an incredibly difficult spot.

As of Saturday, the Kings have little more than $1.6 million in available cap space, and that’s nowhere near enough for the club to land one of the potential starting goaltenders who could be made available by trade. 

For instance, the Red Wings’ Jimmy Howard or Jets’ Ondrej Pavelec would both be far too expensive, and the cost of landing a backup with long-term starting potential, say someone like the Islanders’ Thomas Greiss or Bruins’ Anton Khudobin, is still enough that it puts the Kings right up against the salary cap.

Realistically, the only way for the Kings to acquire a legitimate backup goaltender with starting potential, which is to say a goaltender who can fill in for Quick and Zatkoff, will be if Los Angeles ships out salary in making any acquisition. The trouble then for the Kings is deciding which pieces are expendable, and that’s not going to be an easy decision.

That said, Kings GM Dean Lombardi might have his decision made for him if it turns out Zatkoff is out long-term and Budaj can’t hold the fort. No Quick was one thing, but no Zatkoff makes the situation dire. It’s still early in the season, but losing precious points now can hurt Los Angeles in the long run. If Lombardi doesn’t — or can’t — make a move to shore up his goaltending, it could be too late by the time Quick is ready to make his return.

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