LOS ANGELES — Although Los Angeles Kings goalie Jonathan Quick is garnering more and more consideration as one of the National Hockey League’s best goaltenders—something that has been virtually unheard of when discussing Kings netminders over their 44-year history—and with Jonathan Bernier possessing the skills, if not the opportunity, to be a starting goalie in the NHL, as the old saying goes, a team can never have enough goaltending.
As such, the Kings have continued to draft and develop young goaltenders, and they have two young netminders having solid years with their primary minor league affiliate, the Manchester Monarchs of the American Hockey League.
To this point in the AHL season, Martin Jones and Jeff Zatkoff have pretty much split time in goal, with Jones playing in 27 games, earning a 12-12-1 record, with a 2.86 goals-against average, and a .912 save percentage.
But the story in goal for the Monarchs this season has been Zatkoff, who has a 13-8-1 record, a 2.18 GAA, and a .932 save percentage (ranked third in the AHL) in 26 games—stellar numbers.
Zatkoff began the 2011-12 season with the Kings, as their third goaltender during their trip to Europe to open the season. As a result, playing time was scarce during the early going.
“[The trip to Europe, and not getting ice time early in the season affected me] a little bit,” said the 24-year-old, 6-2, 179-pound native of Detroit, Michigan. “It took me a couple of games just to get the feel for game action again.”
“I only played one pre-season period, so that first game [with the Monarchs] was like a pre-season game for me,” added Zatkoff. “Fortunately, I was able to find my game pretty fast. The work that I was able to do in the off-season has started to pay off.”
Unlike last season, when Jones got off to a fast start during the first half of the season, while Zatkoff struggled a bit, Zatkoff has taken the reins this season.
“Zatkoff has really earned his ice,” said Monarchs head coach Mark Morris. “Coming out of training camp, and having been over in Europe [with the Kings], Jones had been with us longer, and we had [Kings goaltending prospect Jean-Francois] Berube, at the time. Zatkoff came back, and I told him, ‘you’re going to have to earn your keep,’ and he certainly has.”
“He and Jones have pretty much split the first half of the season, but his numbers indicate that he’s got a slight edge right now,” added Morris. “Last year [at this point in the season], Martin Jones was taking the lion’s share [of the minutes], but this year, the shoe is on the other foot. It’s not carved in stone, but, as of late, Zatkoff has played extremely well.”
Indeed, Zatkoff has played so well, that he was selected to play in the 2012 AHL All-Star Classic on January 30.
“I put a big emphasis on getting stronger this summer, and I worked a lot with [former Kings strength and conditioning coach Tim Adams], and with [Kim Dillabaugh, who oversees goaltender development for the Kings] on giving up some depth, and not being so aggressive,” Zatkoff explained. “That’s allowed me to read the game better.”
“That’s the biggest reason for some of my success, because now I’m able to read plays, and anticipate,” Zatkoff elaborated. “That allows me to be in the right spot to take shots off the chest.”
But a lot of Zatkoff’s progress in his development can be attributed to a stronger mental game, something he made big strides on last season, especially after Jones played his way into getting the lion’s share of starts through the first half of the season.
“[That experience] taught me to work for everything I have, and not take my position for granted,” said Zatkoff. “Last year, sometimes I expected to have the ball handed to me, but Jones came in, played well, and took it away.”
“This year, from the start, and even last year, I started focusing, day-by-day, on working hard, and getting back to the level that I know I’m capable of playing at,” added Zatkoff. “I think I’ve found my stride, especially towards the end of last year. I finished the way I wanted to play the whole year. It’s something I wanted to carry into the start of this year, and try to keep things simple, controlling the things I can control. That’s given the team a chance to win every night.”
“Especially with the goaltender position, a lot of it is mental, and you have to have that confidence in yourself, so you’ve got to learn to play the game, one night at a time, one shot at a time, and [only] worry about what you can control. That’s stopping the puck, and if you worry about that, the rest will work itself out.”
With Quick and Bernier, it is easy to think the Kings are set in goal for several years. But Quick will enter the final year of his contract next season, and will undoubtedly demand a huge raise. If he prices himself out of the Kings’ budget, there could be an opening on the roster for a goaltender.
Could Zatkoff be the one to fill that roster spot? Maybe. But he is not concerned about that now.
“I feel like I’m close,” he said. “Given the opportunity, I could prove, not only that I could play, but I could win at the next level. But it’s about controlling what I can control, and that’s here [in Manchester]. Hopefully soon, I’ll get the opportunity to show what I can do [at the NHL level].”
“I try not to look into that because, like I said, that’s really nothing I have control over,” he added. “They’ve got two tremendous goalies up there, both number one [goaltenders]. I’ve played with [Jonathan Bernier] down here. If things shake out for me, then I’ll be happy. But I’m just worrying about playing for Manchester, and getting us into the playoffs.”
While Zatkoff has shined this season, Jones has taken a small step backwards this year.
“It’s pretty difficult, [and] some of the young goalies have a little bit of a slide,” said Morris. “Maybe there’s not quite the urgency they had when they were first breaking into pro hockey, but Jones still has had some great games for us, and we’re going to need him to continue to improve his game all the way around. He’s got unbelievable potential.”
“He quietly won the job last season, in the early going, and was rewarded with a trip to the All-Star Game,” added Morris. “[He] played very solid. His second half wasn’t quite as memorable as the first, but still, for a guy his age, and with his presence in the net—he fills a lot of the net. He’s working towards improving.”
“I know I can be a little bit better, but I’m working hard in practice, and working on things in my game,” said the 21-year-old, 6-4, 189-pound native of North Vancouver, British Columbia. “But for me, it’s keep doing what I’m doing, and keep working hard on my game. Eventually, you’re going to get some bounces here and there, and hopefully, get those numbers [up] a little [more].”
In just his second year at the professional level, Jones appears to be developing at the expected pace. Nevertheless, knows that more work is needed.
“[I’m] just trying to follow up last year, and prove that I am that goalie, and that I can maintain that level of play,” Zatkoff noted. “You’re going to go through ups and down, and there’s going to be tough stretches. But to remain consistent, and play your best every night, at this level, is definitely different from junior [hockey].”
“For me, when I’m at my best, it’s because I’m patient,” Zatkoff added. “Coming out of junior, the biggest change in my game was not being so one-dimensional, like dropping into the butterfly every time, and being more patient.”
Experience and maturity are also key.
“Just maturing a little bit, and having been through it before, you get used to the lifestyle, and you know how to deal with certain things,” he said. “As a goaltender, I’ve worked on things here and there, but the same kind of core technical aspects are still there, and the same foundation, as far as my game goes.”
“Jones is still young, and he’s a great goalie,” said Zatkoff. “He’s big, so there’s not a lot for shooters to shoot at. He’s athletic for his size, which is something you can’t teach. He plays a very solid technical game, and he’s continued to get better and better.”
As reported earlier, Jones and Zatkoff have, essentially, split time in goal for the Monarchs this season. So far, it appears that they are handing the situation well.
“Fortunately for me, it’s something I’m used to,” said Zatkoff. “I split for my first two years at school on a rotation basis. It’s not as difficult as you think. The hardest part is staying sharp, mentally. Physically, it’s not as [demanding] on your body, [so] there’s positives and negatives on both sides. It’s tougher if you get into a little bit of a groove, but, on the other hand, you’re a little more rested, and you’re more focused. You kind of know what you have going into [your next game].”
“It’s something we dealt with last year—we were splitting the games,” said Jones. “I’ve dealt with it before. It’s kind of nice to know when you are going to play—you can kind of plan your days around that. But, at the same time, we both want to play all the games, so you just have to be sure that when you do play, you take advantage, and play your best.”
Indeed, Jones and Zatkoff have a strong relationship, especially after being roommates last season.
“[Zatkoff is] a great guy, a really hard worker,” said Jones. “For me, coming in last year, being my first year as a pro, he was awesome. He showed me the ropes. He showed me how to work and be a pro. He’s a really great mentor, and a great goalie as well.”
Despite all that, there is competition involved.
“We both want to play, that’s the nature of the game,” Zatkoff stressed. “But we understand the situation, and it’s a competitive relationship. Jones playing well is going to push me that much more, and, I’m sure, vice versa. At the same time, I want him to play well. At the end of the day, it’s about wins and losses, and we need wins to advance to the playoffs.”
“He’s a great guy to play with,” Jones noted. “We’re both competitors, and we both want to play. But, at the same time, we both want to see each other succeed as well.”
Morris said that the strong relationship between the two has been a huge asset for the Monarchs.
“[Jones] and Zatkoff have a great relationship,” said Morris. “We feel very confident [with both netminders]. They’ve won us a lot of close games, and I give Zatkoff a lot of credit for all the hard work he’s put in, having a real professional attitude. Jones is the same way.”
“They’re trying to help each other improve, and I think there’s great respect that works both ways for those guys,” added Morris. “A lot of credit goes to Kim Dillabaugh. He works with those guys on a regular basis. Once in awhile, [Kings goaltender coach] Bill Ranford comes in.”
“I think they’ve got a couple of really excellent mentors there to help them work on their games. But even when those guys aren’t here, they’re out there, working on all the things they need to [do] to get themselves ready for us.”
Raw Audio Interviews
(Extraneous material and dead air have been removed)
Martin Jones (3:28)
Jeff Zatkoff (6:53)
Mark Morris (23:53)
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