In a way, Sunday’s game against the Chicago Blackhawks was a microcosm of the Los Angeles Kings’ difficult 2013 season.
Things started off disastrously in the two teams’ second NBC weekend afternoon matchup, which is a lot like the way things began for the Kings when the Blackhawks rattled their cage on banner-raising day in January. Really, though, it’s also reminiscent of the way things began for Los Angeles in general: with tough opponents rattling an over-matched Jonathan Quick to the disbelief of onlookers.
Judging by their paltry 5-6-2 record, you’d think that the Kings just curled up in the fetal position. Through the second period, that largely seemed true as the Blackhawks outshot them by a ridiculous 21-10 margin.
SHOWING SOME FIGHT
But much like their quietly improving overall play, the defending champions actually showed glimpses of the dominant team that never even faced elimination in the 2012 playoffs. Mike Richards scored two power-play goals (he’s a solid add if you’re in a shallower league where he might be on the waiver wire, by the way) to morph what looked like a laugher into a nail-biter. The Blackhawks exhaled and won the game in regulation, yet there was at least a sign of a pulse.
Then again, maybe Chicago and the West simply exhaled and said: games like these might just keep the dangerous Kings from being a terrifying eighth seed once more.
Time will tell for all of that, but even as I soften the blow on the Kings as a whole, it’s time to evaluate the 2012 champions’ go-to guys to see who deserves the most blame.
THE GREAT AMERICAN BREAKOUT CURSE
Usually I like to back up theories with hard stats and measured logic, but every now and then, it’s nice to throw some mystical mumbo jumbo into the mix.* After all, reading about and discussing sports with a perma-furrowed brow or while projecting the image of a polished elite smoking a pipe in a robe kind of defeats the point of gabbing about sports, doesn’t it?
(Perma-furrowed brow thinking does tend to win championships, although I think a few weird notions can help you identify bizarre trends … or at least entertain yourself more than hurtling toward victory with cyborg-like tunnel vision.)
Anyway, I have a few quirky things I weigh heavily that are grounded in roundabout reason, like contract years. On the other hand, there’s a fun thing that might become “The Madden Curse” for hockey goalies; I like to call it The Great American Goalie Breakout Curse.
For my money, here’s how it’s played out so far:
Tim Thomas (twice): First, Thomas won the Vezina and then lost his starting job to Tuukka Rask (and required hip surgery). He then had one of the greatest seasons a goalie’s ever seen (a Vezina-Conn Smythe-Stanley Cup-save percentage record bonanza) and then had the bizarre White House photo-op/transfer to his Colorado bunker meltdown. Maybe this is self-induced stuff, but don’t people in movies usually wrong some mystic to get cursed anyway?**
Ryan Miller - Miller went from a Vezina Trophy and silver medal-winning season to struggling in 2010-11 and getting bull-rushed by Milan Lucic last season. OK, my theory with Miller is that he played way over his head for one year and is just being himself (complete with a save percentage hovering around .916) now, but still …
This then makes way to Quick (although Craig Anderson is an interesting case study in his Jekyll & Hyde career so far; one almost expects another chicken-cutting mishap since his 2012-13 has been so dominant).
One could argue Quick had been working up to last season's masterpiece. In his first workhorse season in 2009-10 (72 GP), he registered a .907 save percentage; in 2010-11 he jumped to .918 in 61 games. That made way for 2011-12, when he rocked a sterling .929 save percentage in 69 games and topped that with his ridiculous .946 mark in the 2012 playoffs.
Since then, a few big problems cropped up. The one that worried me the most going into 2013 was his offseason surgery, but he also lost the (in my opinion) key dangling carrot of monetary motivation by signing a 10-year, $58 million contract extension that kicks in next season. The cap hit might not activate until 2013-14, but the security has to be in the back of his mind - somewhere.
Add those factors to the sag that can come with the lockout (wouldn’t you want to keep the momentum going if you were the Kings and Quick in particular?) and maybe we shouldn’t be so stunned that Quick is struggling. But I am, just like many - maybe most - of you.
Even with all of those variables going the wrong way, the sheer depth of his struggles is daunting.
He's 3-5-2 with an abhorrent .895 save percentage and a middling 2.74 GAA. Zero shutouts, which isn't a surprise, but you'd almost hope he'd make the most of his three wins. He's on a three-game losing streak in which he's allowed nine goals. Things are just grim.
An optimist - no, an opportunist - might shine a light on his buy-low potential, but would most Quick owners tolerate seeing him finally blossom on someone else’s roster? Maybe it’s worth a look, but don’t kick a dead horse, either.
After the jump: other key Kings plus discussion regarding the rest of the NHL.
* - Yes, I was close to using the phrase “mumbo jumbo into the gumbo.” Don’t judge too harshly, please.
** - This might really just be my takeaway from the trailer of the movie “Thinner.” Or maybe even Goosebumps books.