EL SEGUNDO, CA — Looking back to a cold, dark night in Buffalo, New York on November 12, 2013, Los Angeles Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick suffered a grade 2 groin strain in a game against the Buffalo Sabres, forcing him to miss significant time.
Media, pundits and fans—just about everyone predicted that the Kings would go into a tailspin without their superstar goaltender. But what happened next surprised shocked the hockey world, as Ben Scrivens and Martin Jones stepped up to backstop the Kings to points in 17 of their next 19 games, putting the Kings in position to go on to win the 2014 Stanley Cup Championship.
On October 13, the sense of déja vu was palpable around the Kings practice facility in El Segundo, California as Quick, who suffered a lower body injury early in the Kings’ 2-1 loss at San Jose the previous night, was placed on injured reserve with his status listed as week-to-week.
Despite all that, the mood around the dressing room was, “no Quick? No problem.”
“Without one of our best players in our lineup in Quickie, that makes it a lot tougher for us,” said defenseman Drew Doughty. “But I fully believe we can overcome this and still win games without him in there. Hopefully, he recovers quickly and gets back to us.”
“We’re [confident] that we can win without him,” added Doughty. “We’re a team in here. It’s not about one guy. If one guy goes down, others have to step up and do the job. I know how good of a goalie [Jeff Zatkoff] is. He can do the job.”
“We’ve won without him in the lineup before. It sucks that he’s gone, but I think we can do it again.”
Unlike Doughty, young defenseman Brayden McNabb was not part of that 2013-14 team. But he too is well aware of who’s missing from their lineup.
“Everyone knows what Quickie is capable of and what he means to this team,” he noted. “But that being said, we’re confident in Zats, and he has a chance to step up and prove himself. As a team, it’s another chance for everyone to step their game up and takeover for Quickie being out.”
Forward Teddy Purcell stressed that the Kings cannot afford to worry about Quick, or feel sorry for themselves.
“It’s tough anytime you lose a top player, especially your goaltender,” he said. “It’s not the best news, but it happens. There’s no point in hanging our heads about it. We’re confident in Zats. He came in cold [at San Jose] against a very good team. He did really well and gave us a chance to win. We’ve just got to, collectively, as a group, be better, and it’s a good opportunity for Zats to step up here.”
Indeed, despite the 2-1 loss and being pressed into duty on short notice, Zatkoff performed admirably, allowing just one goal.
“It was fine,” said Doughty. “We have full confidence in Zats to do the same job as Quickie, and I thought he played really well. We had a tough bounce on that goal against, but without Quickie in the lineup, everybody’s got to do a little more to make the team better.”
Head coach Darryl Sutter also noted that the Kings have been through this before.
“We’ve been down this road before, with Jonathan,” he observed. “Jonathan is, obviously, a special player, so you don’t just replace that. It’s no different from any other star player in your lineup. You don’t just replace them. You don’t expect someone to play the same way or do the same things. But we also know that we’re quite capable at that position.”
“[Zatkoff] came from this organization, so we knew,” he added. “He’s an NHL goalie. Obviously, Peter [Budaj] is probably the guy who will come and between Zats and Peter, they’ll win games for us.”
With Quick out of the lineup for what could be an extended period, Zatkoff is now in the spotlight. But don’t expect that to change his approach, or that of the team.
“[My message to my teammates would be] don’t change anything,” he said. “It’s the start of the year. The message is still the same for us, as a team. We want to win games. We want to play a certain way and nothing changes. We’re not sure what’s going on with Quickie, but he’s the top goalie in the league.”
“I said it [after the loss at San Jose on October 12],” he added. “My job is to make sure that I come in and the team doesn’t miss a beat. I was in this spot not too long ago. I got the call in the playoffs last year [with Pittsburgh]. I’ve definitely had situations that prepared me for this and it’s a good opportunity. [But] as a group? Nothing changes. [Tonight], we’ve got to get a win and get rolling here.”
“It’s been a couple of weird situations for me in the last few months. But it’s fun. It’s fun to play, and I’ve played a lot of games. The biggest thing is getting out of your [own] way mentally, trusting yourself and playing once you’re out there. I thought [Wednesday] night was a good start. I got in there, I felt good, but we fell a little short. We’ve got work to do and it starts [tonight].”
Zatkoff credited goaltender coach Bill Ranford with keeping him prepared.
“I don’t think anything really changes too much [in his work during practice],” he noted. “Since the start of training camp, we’ve been working on things in my game we think I can get better at, so the focus doesn’t change. I’ll continue to work on those things, but I’ll probably get some more game opportunities to put those habits into action. That’s the next step, but my mindset doesn’t change. I’ve played enough games. My job is to go in there and make sure we keep winning games.”
With only one goaltender available for practice on October 13, Ranford filled in.
“He’s good,” said Zatkoff. “He gets it done, still. That’s the second time I’ve skated with him. In my first year pro, I got called up to the American Hockey League and [Jonathan] Bernier was hurt, at the time. [Ranford] and I took morning skate together. He and I are becoming a goalie tandem, I guess.”
“It’s weird to think—it’s funny because I’m subbing him out in the net,” added Zatkoff. “I’m subbing out a Hall of Fame goalie. I almost feel guilty taking his shots. But I have so much respect for him, not only as a player, but as a coach and everything he’s done for me. To be able to work with him, especially during this stretch, is going to be big for me. It’s important, definitely, that I have him around.”
With Ranford’s coaching, Zatkoff’s game has evolved more than one might think.
“I’ve gone from, in college, being strictly a butterfly, wide goalie—not really reading the play, but you can get away it there,” he noted. “There’s not as many good players—top-end talent. I’ve had to learn to read the game. The biggest thing for me is learning to read the game, trusting my reads and being more patient. That’s still something I work on every day.”
“The more you play, the more comfortable you get and the more confident you get,” he added. “In goaltending, a lot of it is about confidence, so I’ve definitely evolved. But that’s anyone. As the game changes, you’ve got to learn to adapt.”
As an aside, there was also some humor with Ranford in one of the nets during practice.
“He was the second best goalie out there,” Sutter said, with a rather large grin. “That’s not bad. That’s not a bad thing.”
As alluded to earlier, veteran goaltender Peter Budaj, who was the top goaltender in the American Hockey League last season and has considerable National Hockey League experience, was recalled from the Ontario Reign on October 13.
“I think that he’s in a different situation this year than he was last year,” said Sutter. “Last year, he was an unrestricted [free agent], coming in on a tryout, and he earned his way into a prominent role where he had to play almost every game in Ontario, and he earned a contract out of that. He’s an experienced, proven guy.”
Center Nic Dowd played with Budaj last season.
“I’d say his compute level [is what stands out the most],” said Dowd. “That’s pretty cliché, but Boods, seeing what he’s gone through, being up and down and stuff like that, having a season like he did last year, he’s got to be one of the hardest working guys during a game. But the biggest thing is in practice. It’s nice to have a guy who battles that hard, especially in net.”
“He’s really similar to Quickie and Zats,” added Dowd. “All the guys at this level have that kind of compete level.”
Dowd praised Budaj’s dedication and determination, especially when it comes to dealing with adversity.
“His ability to bounce back from the year that he had before shows a lot about his [mental game], and that’s difficult to do, especially—I can imagine—as a goalie,” Dowd observed. “You’re kind of by yourself, even though it’s a team game, so for him to do that and play as well as he did last year, the whole year—I honestly don’t think he had one bad game. It speaks volumes for his work ethic, and that’s what got him there. He just really dedicated himself.”
“He reads shooters really well,” Dowd added. “Every time I practiced against him, that’s the thing we had going against each other. I’d say 60-70 percent of the time, he already knows where I’m shooting the puck, so it’s kind of a joke when he makes the stop—he’s kind of winking at me. But I think he does a really good job of reading players, and positionally, he always seems to be in the right place.”
LEAD PHOTO: Los Angeles Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick, shown here during practice at the Toyota Sports Center >in El Segundo, California Photo: David Sheehan/CaliShooterOne Photography.
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