In overtime of their November 12 game against the Buffalo Sabres, Jonathan Quick suffered a Grade 2 groin strain, and was expected to miss six-to-eight weeks. Despite struggling to regain his 2012 playoff form, his absence was considered a potentially devastating one just a few months after trading away Jonathan Bernier.
The Kings, who sat in fifth in the Pacific Division prior to their shootout loss to Buffalo, suddenly had an enormous problem on their hands. With Quick sidelined, it was up to Ben Scrivens–acquired from Toronto in the Bernier deal– and undrafted free agent Martin Jones, all of 23 years old, to hold the fort.
Yikes, right? It would be easy to forecast a regression that forced Los Angeles to sink so far in the uber-competitive Western Conference by Christmas that a playoff run would be deemed nearly impossible.
Then a funny thing happened. Scrivens started to play well. Really well. And when called upon, Jones has been nothing short of outstanding. Since Quick went down, Los Angeles has yielded only 23 goals in 16 games, including five shutouts. Not surprisingly as a result, the Kings lead the league in goals against and have soared to second in the Pacific.
As of November 14, Scrivens has been on fire. He's 6-2-3 and his .941 save percentage edges out Josh Harding's .939 for tops among all NHL goaltenders. His 1.66 goals against average is second in the league among qualifying goaltenders to Harding's 1.49. In five career stars now, Jones is 5-0-0 with a goals against average of 0.99 and two shutouts.
Scrivens has been named the NHL's First Star of the Week twice, and is sixth in "Three Stars" points, ironically one spot ahead of Jonathan Bernier. Jones got an honorable mention for his efforts this past week, being named the second star behind Alexander Ovechkin.
Quick has progressed slowly during his recovery, and there is an overriding feeling of comfort in the Kings camp. With no urgency in rushing him back into the lineup, especially with an expected spot in the US Olympic lineup lingering in February. But unlike some faux goalie controversies we've seen this season, this one may have some traction.
Scrivens has established himself as a capable number-one goaltender this season in the absence of Quick, who is working on his second shaky season in a row after his memorable run to the Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe Award in the spring of 2012. Was that merely a product of the Kings' highly defensive system, just as much as this stretch by Scrivens and Jones is? Is he capable of returning to a sustainable form that makes his 2011-12 season look like less of a flash in the pan? The questions become more legitimate with every passing day.
One would expect head coach Darryl Sutter to hand the reigns back to Quick once he is healthy, but if he falters it could get interesting to see how long he waits before he goes back to Scrivens.