Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick (32) watches the final moments of a 2-1… (Mark J. Terrill / Associated…)
It was late in the Kings' 3-1 loss to the Colorado Avalanche last Saturday when goaltender Jonathan Quick finally lost his cool.
Quick had been stoic during his teammates' scoring struggles, bailing them out so well that he became only the fourth Kings goalie chosen to play in the All-Star game (Sunday at Ottawa, 1 p.m. PST, NBC Sports Network) and the first since 1981. But against Colorado, his 31st start in which the Kings scored two goals or fewer, Quick could not suppress his emotions.
With under two minutes left he took a hard, one-handed slash at Avalanche forward Daniel Winnik, earning a minor penalty. It didn't affect the outcome, but it grabbed his teammates' attention.
Right wing Justin Williams said he apologized to Quick after the game.
"I know he's frustrated with the late penalties and he's frustrated that we're not scoring goals supporting him," Williams said. "I'm sure he'll never say that, but we've got to do that for him as well."
Williams was right: Quick did not criticize his meager support, though he could not be blamed if he whacked the knuckles of every underperforming King. Quick said his main motivation for taking "a selfish penalty" was annoyance that Winnik had clipped him a few seconds earlier and irritation over giving up three goals that only he considered stoppable.
"Guys on the team have said that to me: 'Forget about it, I'd be frustrated too. We're not scoring,' " Quick said. "That wasn't the source of the frustration. It was based on my play. And no matter what has happened all year, if I look at those three goals I see something I did wrong in each one of them. "
As usual, Quick was too tough on himself. But that drive has fueled his rise from an unheralded third-round draft pick from the University of Massachusetts Amherst to an elite goalie for a team that too often has had a deep, dark void at that position.
Quick, who turned 26 last week, owns or shares an array of franchise records and probably will set several more. One of six goalies chosen to play in the All-Star game, he leads the league with six shutouts, ranks fourth in goals-against average (1.93) and save percentage (.934), is fifth in minutes played (2,522) and eighth in wins (21).
"If we averaged a couple more goals a game, I don't know how many wins he'd have," defenseman Rob Scuderi said. "You can crunch the numbers any way you want. He's been our MVP by a landslide."
There it is again: the Kings' scoring, or lack thereof. They are averaging a league-worst 2.14 goals per game, burdening Quick to be perfect almost every time out.
The pressure could be suffocating. He handles it by pretending it is not there.
"We're not talking about it, basically," said Bill Ranford, the Kings' goaltending coach and a two-time Stanley Cup champion.
"The approach that we're taking is worry about doing your job stopping the puck, and that's all you really have to worry about because if you start thinking about that, then it will start to wear on you."
That philosophy might be the only way Quick can stay sane.
"You need to go into each game with the right mind-set, just thinking that you're just going to make one save and then you're going to make the second save and you're just going one save at a time," he said.
"Over the course of the year that's the approach you need because you're going to see so many shots. You're going to get those bounces that are bad, and teams are going to have times that they're struggling to score and they're going to have times that they're scoring in bunches. It's extremely necessary to approach each shot with a clean slate. I have to stop this shot and then we'll worry about the next, no matter what the score is, no matter what the time of the year is."
Quick has started 15 of 17 games since Darryl Sutter took over as coach and 42 of the Kings' first 50 games, putting him on pace for 69 starts. That's a lot — and he faded when he played 72 games in the 2009-10 season.
But Ranford, who played 77 games for Boston and Edmonton in 1995-96, thinks Quick has developed the professionalism to handle a huge workload.
"There's no doubt there's a maturity aspect of things in the way he approaches things," Ranford said. "He was the type of guy that would come out for practice some days and just goof off and I'd have to reel him in and say, 'You know what? We don't want to start picking up bad habits.' And you don't see a lot of that with him anymore.
"We watch him closely and up to this point, it would have been nice for him to have the All-Star break off, but also we realize we've got another good goalie in Jonathan Bernier and there's going to be times that he's going to have to pick up the slack for us. It's a healthy thing right now. He's working hard and he's giving us a chance to win every night. And the way our season has gone, we need that."
Quick said he welcomed the trip to Ottawa as a chance to spend time with his wife, Jaclyn, while their toddler daughter stays with his wife's parents. But he already has turned his thoughts to the Kings' stretch drive and his role in keeping them aloft.
"We're in the top eight [in the Western Conference], and that's something that's not easy to do with all the great players and great teams in this league," he said. "At the same time, we do expect ourselves to be higher than where we are.
"We know there's room for improvement in here. We know everybody could pitch in a little more. From the net out, everybody can."