Goaltenders are like football quarterbacks and baseball pitchers in that they play their sports’ position that’s judged by the dubious ‘wins’ and ‘losses’ statistics.
Unlike football quarterbacks and baseball pitchers, goaltenders aren’t tasked with the role of putting the play in motion. A pitcher can control the flow of a game—oftentimes an effective pitcher will speed up and slow down his rhythm to get in batter’s heads, like a veteran golfer in a match game. A quarterback is limited by the play clock, but otherwise snaps the ball, and usually has the power to change the play at the line of scrimmage.
Consider Jonathan Quick. Nothing has gone right for Quick this season. He’s been bad, surely we can all admit that much. Perhaps the Los Angeles Kings are giving up some quality shots in front of him, but no goaltender should make it through 10 games after coming into a year with such high expectations. Many pundits picked Quick for the Vezina Trophy. Many more pundits picked the Los Angeles Kings to be the top team in the Western Conference. With more than a quarter of the season done, the Kings, after a 3-2 loss to Chicago on Sunday, sit four points out of a playoff spot.
Wait, four points is not all that much, and the Kings still have games in hand over the teams they’re trying to catch up to. Rumours of their demise have been greatly exaggerated, and Quick, well…
@jonathanquick32 HOLY shit are you terrible. 3 goals in 20ish minutes? Bernier let in 2 in 120 minutes. Bench yourself
— The Book of Yee (@YeeTweets) February 18, 2013
@jonathanquick32 whats up this year big guy? giving up to many goals
— ฿℃ℓαяк ⊥♄α⊥ ḓʊḯ (@BillyMyNameIs) February 17, 2013
@jonathanquick32 you suck bro!
— שּׂreckedΔngle™(@wreckedangle) February 17, 2013
Of course, Quick did stop 34 of 37 on Sunday for his fifth “quality start” on the season.
Again, Quick doesn’t have the ability to control the game on his own. We’ve seen goaltenders win and lose games all by their lonesome, but when a goaltender like Quick is struggling, particularly on a very good team that doesn’t give up a tonne of shots, it gives the man less opportunity to redeem himself and find that form from last season’s playoffs.
I bring up the word “regression” a lot, and that’s because particularly at a position like goaltender, where a player isn’t in control of the game, can have so many goals against happen as a result of bad bounces, things are never as good as they seem, nor as bad as they seem.
Blogs are a visual medium, so I’ve taken the liberty to paste out a chart I put together of Quick’s career to date (via Hockey Reference). The blue line is Quick’s career save percentage, and the red line is Quick’s save percentage in his last ten games.
The pattern is distinct: the blue line has slowly progressed throughout Quick’s career, as he’s gotten more experienced and faced more pucks, and the red line bounces up and down, with slightly higher peaks and slightly higher valleys than previous.
In January of 2011, Quick had hit what was his lowest point in his career to date. He had gone just 2-7, with a save percentage of .869 and a goals against average of 3.29. In his next ten appearances, he was 8-1-1 with a .933 save percentage and a 1.84 goals against average. The second number is the Quick we’re used to from playoffs past. Of course, in the ten games *after* that he averaged out again.
Basically, goaltender numbers are a fast moving target around a common mean. Every goaltender’s mean is different, obviously. Quick’s .917 save percentage (playoffs included) is much better than a similarly-aged Kari Lehtonen. Or Cam Ward.
That said, the Kings were probably better off not signing Quick to a ten year deal while Quick was standing at one of the highest peaks of his career. I don’t know what they were looking for, but Quick isn’t as good as the goaltender who had a .946 save percentage in the 2012 playoffs. No goaltender is. They can play that well and have a very good streak, but it’s madness to expect that kind of consistent output from a goaltender every season.
Quick, and the Kings, will be all right.