Tuesday, March 5, 2013

What Have You Done for Me Lately, Jonathan?

Jonathan Quick won the Conn Smythe as the Kings rode his astounding play all the way to the franchise's first Stanley Cup in the spring of 2012. He was a nominee for the Vezina, coming in second behind King Henrik of the Rangers as he put up a GAA of 1.95 (2nd in the NHL), a Save Percentage of .929 (5th in the NHL), and recorded 10 shutouts to lead the league. He has recorded 35 or more wins for L.A. the last three seasons, his first three full seasons in the NHL. And last spring the Kings signed him to a 10-year, $58 million contract.

But, look out, Mr. Quick, because the other Jonathan might be stealing your job.

Bernier has now won all 5 of his starts this season, his lone loss coming in relief after Quick got yanked in the first game against Anaheim on Feb. 2 after giving up 2 goals on 3 shots. Since Bernier got his first start of the season on Feb. 11 in St. Louis he has given up 5 goals (1 more than he gave up in relief in that Anaheim game), exactly one per game, and more than half of his starts have been against high quality opponents. Bernier has defeated St. Louis, Detroit, and Nashville (and the game against Calgary shouldn't be discounted as it was the second night of a road back-to-back).

Since Feb. 11 the two goalies have done something they have never done since being paired up as starter and back-up two years ago, they have split time in the crease evenly. Both have started five games in that space with Bernier going 5-0 with a GAA of 1.00 and a .956 save percentage. In the same time Quick has gone 3-2, losing to the Blackhawks and Canucks while beating Edmonton, Colorado, and Anaheim (and if we go back one further he is 3-3, giving up the heartbreaking last-quarter minute goal in Detroit that cost the Kings a point, but may have gotten them going on their current hot streak).

Bernier's stats aren't currently being counted among the NHL's leaders because his playing time is apparently one game shy of what's required, but if he was on there he would be 3rd in GAA (1.53 trails only Corey Crawford in Chicago at 1.41 in 13 games and Craig Anderson of Ottawa at 1.49 in 15 games). His save percentage is at .933 which would put him in 4th in the league (Craig Anderson leads at .952 with Crawford in 2nd at .945 and Anti Niemi in 3rd (!) at .934 in 17 games).

Quick is in 29th in save percentage (counting Bernier) at .901 and 19th in GAA at 2.53.

Clearly Quick has earned the benefit of the doubt here based on his play last season and his stellar work in getting the Kings to the Cup. There is no question in my mind that Quick should continue to play… for the time being.

But what does Darryl Sutter do if the Jonathans both continue trending as they have? Do you bench a Conn Smythe-winning goalie who you have signed for the next ten seasons? Can you trade a guy who is playing as well as Bernier? Can the Kings afford to re-sign Bernier and have both guys remain on the roster, always battling each other for the starter's job?

With the Kings playing so many games in March, clearly as long as both guys can give the team a chance to win games, they're both going to see the crease, but when playoff time comes around, if Quick looks at all shaky, it's nice to know the Kings have insurance in the form of Bernier! At the same time, I'd hate to have a situation in Los Angeles like they had in Vancouver last spring where everyone is just waiting for the starter to stumble so we can see what the back-up can deliver. I hope one of them has clearly taken the reins as the starter by April and this long stretch of games in March will give them both the opportunity to do just that.

So, Jonathan, what have you done for me lately?

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