The Los Angeles Kings had a troubling loss to the Detroit Red Wings last night that looks even stranger when juxtaposed with their previous outings.
The Kings had back-to-back wins against the San Jose Sharks, who coming into today were tied atop the Pacific Division.
It looked like the Kings were poised to carry that momentum into their 7 game home stand. Instead, they got blanked 4-0 by a team well out of the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference that started their backup goaltender.
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Jared Coreau played fantastically, saving all 34 shots against him. However, it’s important to preface that accolade by mentioning that he came into the game with a GAA above 3 and a save percentage below .900 on the year.
Peter Budaj had played the last 4 games and 8 out of the last 9 games. Jeff Zatkoff started in net to give Budaj a well deserved day off.
The Kings didn’t get the same type of performance from their backup goaltender that the Red Wings got, though. Zatkoff gave up 4 goals on just 22 shots.
It hasn’t been a great year for Zatkoff. He has a career GAA of 2.66 and a career save percentage of .915, but he’s well below those totals this season. He’s currently sitting at a 2.99 GAA and a .884 save percentage after the debacle last night.
A team wins and loses games together, and it’s not fair to put that embarrassing loss all on Zatkoff, but there’s some troubling statistics that he’s carrying around.
In 7 starts this season, he has 3 Really Bad Starts, which are defined as starts with a save percentage below 85%.
When a goalie plays that poorly, it makes it extremely difficult for the team to get a win. Even when his entire career is taken into account, he has 9 Really Bad Starts in 36 starts. 25% of the time he has a save percentage below 85% in a game.
Just to see how that statistic lines up with an elite starting goaltender, Jonathan Quick has 68 Really Bad Starts in his career in 467 career starts. That’s about 15%.
Zatkoff now has a Quality Start Percentage of just 28.6% after his performance last night. It’s not reasonable to imply that Zatkoff needs to play like Quick, but the necessity for Quick to return as soon as possible is becoming abundantly clear.
The fact the Budaj is having a career season and could viably be an all star has alleviated some of the problems brought by Quick’s injury, but with the Kings hovering around that last wildcard spot, they don’t have much room for error.
It’s encouraging to imagine a duo of Quick and Budaj down the stretch, assuming that Quick gets back to the level Kings fans have become accustomed to over the years and Budaj keeps up his impressive performance.
What’s amazing is that Zatkoff was the guy who replaced Quick after he got injured, and Budaj was recalled to be his backup.
Zatkoff got pulled in the Minnsota Wild game back on October 18 after a dreadful performance. He was then out with a lower body injury and didn’t play again until November 11th.
Crazy things happen over the course of a hockey season, and Budaj seized his opportunity. When Quick returns, that’s going to be an extremely formidable goaltending unit.
It’s part of the reason why it’d be unwise to panic too much about the Kings’ playoff chances. Imagine what will happen when Quick gets back in the crease and Budaj takes over the role Zatkoff is in.
Combine that realization with the fact that Anze Kopitar, Marian Gaborik, and Jake Muzzin are trudging through strikingly unproductive seasons relative to the levels they’re capable of playing at, and the Kings’ outlook doesn’t seem too bleak.
Gaborik and Kopitar have combined for just 4 goals in 51 games between the two of them this season. Scorers of their caliber will surely snap out of that type of funk.
Considering that their star goaltender is injured and many of their key players are significantly underperforming, the Kings are in a great position in the standings.
Jeff Carter has been fantastic, and Alec Martinez looks like he’s in the midst of a career season. Once Tyler Toffoli gets back in the lineup, sleeping giants like Kopitar, Gaborik, and Muzzin come alive, and Quick returns to action, the Kings seem like they’ll be a playoff team.