How Jonathan Quick Can Elevate His Game and Make Los Angeles Kings Even Better
The 27-year-old netminder, who won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player in the Kings' Stanley Cup title run in 2012, is about to begin a massive 10-year, $58 million contract.
With the new deal comes higher expectations for a player that Los Angeles is relying on to backstop a Western Conference contender for the next decade.
Let's examine how Quick can improve his game and, as a result, make the Kings an even tougher team to beat on the road to the Stanley Cup.
Better Performances vs. the Chicago Blackhawks
Let's face it, if the Kings are expecting to get back to the Stanley Cup Final over the next three to five years, they will likely need to defeat the Chicago Blackhawks in the playoffs multiple times.
The defending champion Blackhawks have a strong core of young stars, a reliable goaltender and a strong enough prospect pool to provide much-needed depth. Therefore, expect Chicago to be a top contender for many more years out West.
Entering the Kings and Blackhawks' matchup in the Western Conference Final last year, Quick had allowed two or fewer goals in 11 of his team's 13 games over the first two rounds. He looked unbeatable at times and gave the Kings a distinct advantage in net versus Chicago prior to Game 1.
But the UMass star was unable to maintain his world-class form against the Blackhawks, allowing 2.8 goals per game, with a horrible .897 save percentage, in a five-game series loss. In the first two rounds, Quick posted a combined .948 save percentage.
Quick's subpar Western Conference Final against the Blackhawks was no surprise based on his previous regular-season performances against the Original Six club.
For the Kings to be a legitimate championship contender with a core of talented young stars and veterans signed long-term, they need Quick to play better and be more consistent against the Blackhawks.
More Consistent Regular-Season Performance
Jonathan Bernier was the best goaltender on the L.A. Kings during the 2013 regular season. After trading the 24-year-old to the Toronto Maple Leafs this summer, the Kings will need Quick to step up his performance in the regular season because there won't be a top-tier backup behind him in 2013-14.
Quick only had one winning streak of three or more games last year. To be fair, it was a shortened 48-game season, but his inconsistency was a bit of a concern going into the playoffs.
As the chart below shows, Quick has posted a save percentage of .920 or higher and a GAA of 2.25 or lower in just one season. He's also never put together back-to-back years of a .920-plus save percentage and a sub-2.20 GAA.
Is Jonathan Quick the best goaltender in the world?
Quick was the only reason why the Kings even made the playoffs in 2011-12, with 10 shutouts and a 1.95 GAA. This is why people believed that he was turning the corner and becoming a consistently elite performer after two of the best seasons of his career (2010-11 and 2011-12).
But the 2013 campaign was a step back for Quick after finishing the regular season with a career-worst .902 save percentage and his lowest shutout total (one) since 2007-08.
Los Angeles needs better consistency in the regular season from Quick to earn home-ice advantage more often in the playoffs. As a player now making an average of about $6 million annually, Quick needs to be an elite-level goaltender in the regular season and not just the playoffs.
Puck-Handling Must Improve
Handling the puck well is not a strength of Quick's skill set, and as we saw in Game 5 of the 2012 Stanley Cup Final and Game 1 of the Kings' first-round series against the St. Louis Blues last year, sometimes this weakness costs his team and leads to a loss.
Communicating better with his defensemen would help Quick move the puck better and start the rush up ice. Making faster decisions is another way for him to handle the puck better and avoid turnovers that lead to chances for the opposing team. There are also instances when Quick plays the puck or tries to clear it when covering up for a faceoff is the smartest and safest decision.
One of the best ways to avoid the oncoming forecheck is by a goalie playing the puck before the opposing team can battle for the puck below the goal line. If Quick is able to improve his hands and deliver more accurate passes, the Kings will be able to play a faster game and take some pressure off the defensemen.
Nicholas Goss is an NHL columnist at Bleacher Report. He was a credentialed writer at the 2011 and 2013 Stanley Cup Final, the 2012 NHL playoffs and the 2013 NHL draft. All salary information via CapGeek.
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