Stop me if you’ve heard this before:
The Los Angeles Kings won Game 1 of their Western Conference Semi-finals matchup with the San Jose Sharks last night, due in large part to the fact that Jonathan Quick is currently the best goalie in the NHL playoffs, just as he was last year.
Quick faced 35 shots from the Sharks last night, and he stopped them all, helping the Kings win yet another game in which their opponent was faster, more aggressive, and basically the all-around better team . . . in every category but goaltender.
The shutout was Quick’s sixth career playoff shutout. Translation: it was his fifth playoff shutout in the past two seasons, which means that, out of the 27 games he has played between last season’s Stanley Cup run and the current playoffs, he has shutout his opponents in 19% of the games he has played.
Are you kidding me?
What all of this means is simple (and this is another lesson for the Buffalo Sabres and their fans to make note of): in the world of sports, there is no more important position than that of an NHL goaltender.
Consider: Michael Jordan, considered to be the best player to ever play in the NBA, could not win an NBA Championship by himself. His team actually lost a playoff game in which he torched the Boston Celtics for 63 points, an NBA-playoffs record. Similarly, LeBron James played out-of-his-mind basketball in 2007 when he led the Cleveland Cavaliers to the NBA Finals, but his team was swept in the Finals by the San Antonio Spurs. It wasn’t until LeBron went to Miami and was surrounded by a talented team that he won a championship.
In football, the quarterback may be the most important position, but it is possible to severely limit a quarterback’s influence by simply running the clock and limiting how often he touches the ball. Also – how many games has Peyton Manning lost in overtime, simply because the opposing team won the coin toss and scored, depriving Manning of even being able to touch the ball?
The only other position in sports whose influence is comparable to that of an NHL goalie is the pitcher in Major League Baseball. It’s true that a dominant pitcher can almost single-handedly win games for his ballclub . . . but pitchers only pitch every four, sometimes three, games, so no one pitcher can dominate a playoff series as much as one NHL goalie can.
Think about just how much a goalie like Quick can dominant a playoff series. Even a terrible, putrid, god-awful NHL team is going to score, on average, 2+ goals a game. Quick’s playoff GAA over the last two years is 1.395. All his team needs to do is score 2 measly goals a game to win on any given night. Factor in his shutout percentage, and the Kings literally have only NEEDED to score one goal in 19% of the playoff games they have played between this season and last season. That’s unreal. I can’t prove this, but I’m willing to bet that even the WORST team to ever make the NHL playoffs was good for one goal a game.
For further proof of how good goaltending is more important in the NHL than good offense, we need only look at the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Penguins never scored less than three goals a game against the Islanders, yet struggled through a closer-than-expected six-game series. Why? Their goaltending was acceptable at best, and downright terrible on more than occasion. As stacked as their offense is, the Penguins could be in trouble if Ben Anderson gets hot for the Ottawa Senators, whereas the Kings have little offense to speak of yet are as likely to win the Stanley Cup as any team playing right now.
This isn’t to say I’m handing the series to the Kings already – San Jose will find ways to score, which means the Kings need to get more out of their offense. You cannot ignore the fact, however, that the LA Kings are just a good team that is reaping the benefits of having the world’s best playoff goalie wearing their jersey right now. If Quick can continue to do what he is doing, which is actually improving upon his stellar playoff performance of last season, then Los Angeles may be lifting Lord Stanley’s Cup for the second straight year. Be Quick, or be dead, LA!