Quick, Kings find balance in uneven schedule

For many talented goaltenders, finding that long-sought rhythm and routine over an 82 game season is a major key in establishing consistency and maintaining good numbers.

When a goaltender records a 1.95 goals against average and .929 save percentage with 10 shutouts over 69 games, as Jonathan Quick did in a regular season that drew a Vezina Trophy nomination, it’s a reflection of a goaltender’s widespread success under many adverse conditions and challenges.

While Quick’s play was outstanding across the board in 2011-12, he has especially thrived with a spaced-out schedule, posting a 5-0-1 record under Sutter when starting a game after at least three days of rest. In the playoffs, where television schedules often dictate two full days between games, Quick would appear to feel awfully secure in his goaltending rhythm – not that that really changes nything.

This zone of comfort is important, as the Kings will have spent six days standing over their slapshot once Game 1 rolls around Sunday at 5:00 p.m. Game 2 is scheduled for Tuesday at 6:00 p.m.

Is there any special approach to feeling comfortable in a slightly more irregular schedule?

“Same thing we’ve been doing all year,” Quick answered to reporters on Thursday. “Obviously we’re going to have a couple more days of practice than normal, and just going in to every practice as if we were playing a game the next day and prepare really as if we were playing a game the next day. I think guys do a good job of challenging each other out there, and that’s going to keep us sharp by doing that.”

Quick has remained steady throughout the heavy workload. Unlike his 2009-10 season, when an overworked NHL sophomore drew 72 starts and posted an improvable .903 save percentage from February 1 onward, the 26 year old has drawn a few comparisons to some of the all-time greats one month into Los Angeles’ playoff “marathon”, as the grind was described by Darryl Sutter.

“He’s the same as Hasek, same as Belfour,” Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. “He never quits on the puck. It’s a very unique skill. It’s not common. He never stops looking for a puck.”

Sutter described the ebb and flow of production over Quick’s season-long body of work and how an 82-game season naturally affects the output of good goaltenders.

“I think he only played two or three back to back games [in the second half], so you try and manage it and try and manage his practices properly,” Sutter said. “He’s a guy who’s going to work hard always in practice, but you’ve got to make sure he’s working on the game situation things. I think that’s a lot of times where those top guys when they have a little bit of an issue in their game, it’s in their practice habits because maybe they’re playing too much, or the travel.”

Conversely, the Kings were able to find success against Brian Elliott in the second round when the goaltender’s equilibrium was disrupted. As one half of the venerable regular season platoon with Jaroslav Halak, Elliott wasn’t able to recapture his All-Star form when pushed into starting four consecutive games due to Halak’s ankle injury. Without a safety net that allowed him to work out his kinks, Elliott allowed 11 goals over the final three games of the series, and one of St. Louis’ strongest assets all season long turned into a heavy liability.

“Maybe we exposed St. Louis’ goaltending a little bit, but this time of year it’s about hardwork, getting on the forecheck, making it hard on their guys who play a lot of minutes,” Dustin Brown said. “I mean, Ekman-Larsson plays 30 minutes a game [for Phoenix]. It’s important for us to get on him. He’s a younger guy, and we’ve got to wear on guys like that throughout the series. The other guy you’ve really got to make it hard on is Mike Smith.

In describing the feeling he was getting from the players during the six-day stretch away from playoff hockey, Sutter used the term “anxious” on Thursday, referring to the team’s departure from an every-second or every-third-day schedule.

The team appears to be focusing on the smaller, more immediate goals, or as Dustin Penner described it on Wednesday, “like getting ready for the first period, first shift for the next game in Phoenix.”

“I think you’ve just got to keep the foot on the gas,” Colin Fraser said. “I know we’ve got some days off, but you can’t be satisfied or complacent. You’ve got to keep the mindset that it’s the playoffs.”

“It’s going to be hard. I think everybody knows what’s at stake and everybody in the whole league wants to win every night. It’s not going to be easy, but we’re excited to get started.”