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Stanley Cup Playoffs 2018: Jonathan Quick stealing the show despite Vegas advantage

Despite back-to-back losses, the Los Angeles Kings’ goaltender is the best player in this series so far. Here’s why, and here’s how the Golden Knights beat him.

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Los Angeles Kings at Vegas Golden Knights
Los Angeles Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick (32) makes a glove save
Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

How does a goaltender on the losing end of two straight games have a 1.17 goals against average and .964 save percentage?

Well, if that goaltender is Jonathan Quick, it’s through no fault of his own.

Despite the Vegas Golden Knights leading the best-of-7 first round series 2-0 over the Los Angeles Kings, Quick has been nearly perfect. It’s probably been frustrating from Vegas’ perspective, but it’s nonetheless impressive.

Quick has faced 84 shots in two games, stopping all but three of them. He forced the Golden Knights, in a game in which they thoroughly dominated, to go to double overtime. He’s achieving feats that should not be possible, keeping the Kings close in a series in which, by any other metric, they’re not.

How is he doing this?

A Quick history

During the Kings’ first Stanley Cup run in 2012, Quick posted a league-high .946 save percentage and another league-best 1.41 GAA, winning the Conn Smythe. In 2014, the second Cup run, Quick had the two postseason shutouts and played the most minutes of any goaltender (1,605).

Quick led the league three straight years in postseason shutouts. The Kings went to the Western Conference Final in that stretch, beating the dynastic Chicago Blackhawks twice.

Unfortunately for Los Angeles, that prime was four years ago, and Quick missed most of last season with injuries. That contributed to the Kings missing the playoffs for the second time in three years. In 2015-16, Quick posted a .886 save percentage, a 3.04 GAA, and just one quality start (above the average save percentage) with two really bad (save percentage below .850) ones.

That’s why this resurgence is quite impressive, if not shocking. Quick has posted a save percentage above .915 both of the last two regular seasons, and got two shutouts last season in just 17 starts. This season, Quick had five shutouts in 64 starts, having his second-best career season.

The Golden Knights have picked up on Quick rather, well, quickly. Despite a 2-0-1 record against Quick, the Kings’ goaltender has saved .908 percent of the Knights’ shots. Taking away his worst game (6-for-9, 11:22 played) Quick has a .936 save percentage against the Golden Knights and a 2.38 goals against average. That’s scary.

But not unbeatable.

High-Danger chances

According to Natural Stat Trick, the Golden Knights have 19 high-danger chances over 67 shots at even-strength, and six high-danger chances over 14 shots on the power play (25 altogether over 81 shots). That’s not a lot, considering that high-danger shots only account for just over 30 percent of shots taken.

A reminder that the Shea Theodore goal, which came from outside the high-danger area, was deflected within the area. That should count as a high-danger goal. So out of a possible 26 high-danger chances (including the Theo goal), three have gone in. That’s a .885 save percentage.

This is the key to Quick’s downfall — when the Knights have gotten to home plate, they’ve scored. The Erik Haula goal, the Alex Tuch goal, both were from high-danger, high-percentage areas. Looking at the high-volume areas (highlighted in red), that’s not where the Golden Knights are shooting the most from.

That’s because the Kings’ defense forces the Knights to the outside, allowing more shots from defensemen and the point. Goals are coming from the left side of Quick as well, where the Knights didn’t get to often in Game 1.

The key to the rest of this series: Get up close and personal with Quick; force him to make saves closer to his net, make it uncomfortable for him. With Drew Doughty returning Sunday, that’s imperative. That’s why the Kings continue to force the Knights into scrums — they don’t want those high-danger chances, and scrapping has been an effective preventative measure.

Still, the fact that Quick has saved 55-of-55 lower-danger shots (and 23-of-26 from high-danger) is impressive. He remains a quality goaltender, especially in the postseason. That’s been frustrating for the Golden Knights, who play a speedy and skilled style that allows for “pretty” goals from a distance. That’s not what Quick is going to let into the net, though. Now it’s on the Knights to start playing ugly. It helps when you’re up 2-0.