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Los Angeles Kings' Goaltending Must Tighten Up To Win A Playoff Round

Goaltending doesn't matter if your team can't score, but the Los Angeles Kings can. It's up to Jonathan Quick, Cal Petersen and their defense to turn things around.
Jonathan Quick

As we’ve seen in more than a few NHL markets this season, reliable goaltending has been a major problem. Whether it’s been triggered by injuries or simply individual struggles, goaltending has been a sinkhole for teams that have big expectations. And there’s no better example of a team being hurt by their netminding than the Los Angeles Kings.

The Kings were picked by many (this writer included) to make the playoffs this season and take a step forward by winning a playoff round or two. And while we’ve got to note that it’s still early, there are troubling signs from L.A. that could prevent them from making it to the post-season.

On the one hand, the Kings’ offense has been solid: in seven games, they’ve generated 24 goals – the best total in the Western Conference – but their goals-against number (31) is brutal. The worst in the league, as a matter of fact. 

Kings coach Todd McLellan has tried both Jonathan Quick and Cal Petersen, but neither veteran has been able to prosper: Quick has a 1-3-0 record, a 3.94 goals-against average and a .889 save percentage; Petersen has a 2-1-0 record, a 4.97 G.A.A. and .842 SP. Both goalies have made highlight-reel saves, but no team is going to make the playoffs with inconsistent goalie numbers like that.

You have to take into account the Kings’ defense corps has been sub-par as well. Thirty-six-year-old Alex Edler is on his last legs as an NHLer, averaging only 13:07 of ice time per game. Drew Doughty is back and healthy again, leading the team and the entire NHL in ice time with an average of 27:29 – nearly six minutes more than the next most-used Kings player. At age 32, Doughty shouldn’t be ridden into the ground, but McLellan is fully aware his team’s defensive depth is a problem, and he’s doing what all professional coaches do – worrying only about the next game on the schedule. Playing Doughty for nearly half the game may help matters in the short term, but players’ bodies are known to break down when they’re utilized that much.

But let’s get back to the Kings’ goaltending. Even taking into account the quality of chances the goalies are facing, Petersen has the fourth worst goals saved above expected stat in the NHL while Quick is 11th worst, according to moneypuck.com.

Cal Petersen

Quick is in the final year of his contract, and Petersen is under contract for the next two seasons. The Kings don’t have an elite goalie prospect in their development system, so it’s not as if GM Rob Blake can easily move one of Petersen or Quick and turn to a dynamic youngster. Nor is there any goalie on the trade block who could step in and be a difference-maker. 

Although he’s got a deep prospect pool, Blake doesn’t have much salary cap space to acquire someone with an elite pedigree. For the moment, it appears L.A. is stuck with their current goalie tandem.

The Kings are fortunate to play in the NHL’s weakest division, but they’re still going to have to be better if they’re to secure a playoff berth. However, that isn’t enough for this group. They need to do more than they did last year, when they nearly knocked off the Edmonton Oilers in the first round before losing in seven games. The Kings were outscored by the Oilers, and not by a small margin: they posted 17 goals-for, but surrendered 27. They leaned on Quick in that series, but he had a 3.43 G.A.A. and a .904 SP in seven games. Again, these are not statistics that are going to lead them to the second round and beyond.

Blake has done an impressive job stacking the Kings at forward, but there’s clearly something lacking on the back end. Quick will be 37 years old in January, and asking him to be the team’s workhorse between the pipes is probably asking too much. There’s pressure on Petersen to deliver better results, given his $5 million cap hit, but he does not look confident, and that’s reflected in his performance.

There’s still lots to like about this Kings team. They’ve got three productive forward lines, and they’ve got a solid mix of veterans and youngsters. But without adequate goaltending, they’ve got no foundation on which to build a Stanley Cup winner. Something needs to change for them in net, and it needs to change quickly. Otherwise, their progress as an organization is going to go sideways, and they could miss the playoffs for the fifth time in the past seven years.

Goaltending is not everything, but those who don’t have it are usually at or near the bottom of the standings. The Kings remain a work in progress, but until they stabilize their netminding, progress is going to be difficult to come by. 

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