Young Los Angeles Kings Ready To Show Fans the Royal Treatment

Brandon McCannContributor IJanuary 3, 2009

Jamie Storr, Dan Cloutier, Sean Burke, Yutaka Fukufuji, Mathieu Garon, Roman Cechmanek, Jean-Sebastien Aubin, and Jason Labarbera. To any other fan of the NHL, this is simply a list of past and present goaltenders, but to Los Angeles Kings fans, it's a painful reminder of all the stopgaps they've had to endure between the pipes.

It might be time to toss that list away.

After the arrival of Erik Ersberg last season, plus the impressive play of young backstop Jonathan Quick, Kings fans may finally have something to smile about when watching their team in the defensive zone.

Let's flash back to the 2007-2008 season. Other than an early flash of brilliance by top prospect, Jonathan Bernier, the Kings spent virtually all of their season in disarray. Six goaltenders were used throughout the season in search for one that could give them a stretch of consistent play. By April, they still had no answer.

If the goaltending situation wasn't frustrating enough, the team endured defensive woes in nearly every category, which capped off a Conference worst 71-point season. Los Angeles was ranked 28th in Goals Against, 28th in Shots Against, 27th in Face Off Percentage, and dead last (30th) in Penalty Kill. Horrifying numbers for any die hard fan to look back on.

With an off-season that saw trades of Michael Cammalleri (80 points in 2006-2007), and Lubomir Visnovsky (Lead all Kings' Defencemen with 41 points in 2008), and the firing of Head Coach Marc Crawford, it appeared that Los Angeles was ready to take a step back in their long rebuilding progress.

Now let's fast-forward to 2009.

Behind new Head Coach Terry Murray, the Kings have given their fans something they haven't seen in ages: A gritty, hard-nosed, and defensive-minded team.

Los Angeles has made a complete turnaround, ranking eighth in Goals Against, fifth in Face-Off Percentage, seventh in Penalty Kill, and first in Shots Against. It gets better, too.

Drew Doughty, the Kings' first-round draft pick in 2008 (No. 2 overall) has impressed night in and night out, and is a leading candidate for the Calder Trophy this year. With the departure of Rob Blake and the injury to Jack Johnson, Doughty has stepped up to the plate for what was expected to be a depleted defensive core.

Lombardi found another blue line gem by picking up 23-year-old Kyle Quincey off waivers from Detroit. Quincey is playing in his first full season with an NHL team and hasn't disappointed. In 34 games this season, Quincey has notched 20 points and a plus/minus of two while playing superb defense along the way.

Remember those two goaltenders we mentioned earlier? They've lead the charge for what has become this tough defensive core. After the struggling Jason Labarbera was benched, Ersberg stepped in to provide the Kings with solid goaltending, going 8-5-2 with a .903 save percentage before his injury. Ersberg's injury resulted in an emergency call up from their AHL affiliate, Manchester Monarchs.

Enter Jonathan Quick.

After a tough opening outing in Detroit, where he allowed five goals on 35 shots, Quick has rebounded beautifully with a minuscule Goals Against Average of .76, saving 97 percent of his shots, and collecting two shutouts in the span (2-2-0).

He's shown the poise, positioning, and confidence that Kings' goaltenders have lacked for far too long.

But what both of these young netminders bring to the Kings is something the team has sorely missed; keeping the game close. For too long the Kings have watched the likes of Dan Cloutier and Jason Labarbera let in a soft goal at an inopportune moment, inevitably snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

These kids have faired otherwise, rewarding the Kings with big saves at the right times.

While it still may be early and while the Kings still may be a year away from reaching the playoffs in a competitive Western Conference, fans can at least start to see Dean Lombardi's youth movement develop before their eyes.

Definitely a welcome change for anyone who has suffered through the Kings' past failures.