Wednesday, February 11, 2009
Quick, Kings forcing critics to take notice
The youngest team in the NHL doesn't know any better. The players don't realize they're not supposed to be competing for a playoff spot this season.
But here are the Los Angeles Kings, who barely get any media coverage, winning seven of their past eight games, including a 4-1-0 road trip through the Eastern Conference, to jump into the wild Western Conference playoff race.
"It's been really exciting," rookie netminder Jonathan Quick told ESPN.com. "We're just trying to make a strong playoff push here. There's eight to 10 teams fighting for a couple of playoff spots. We want to make sure we're one of them at the end of the year."
The Kings were just two points out of a playoff spot before Wednesday's games. Forgotten by most of us for much of the season, the youngsters from L.A. are forcing people to notice them again.
The captain, Dustin Brown, is 24; his alternates are Matt Greene, 25, and Anze Kopitar, 21. The Kings' starting goalie is 23.
"We're having a great time," Quick said. "We just had a 12-to-13-day road trip. The team is bonding, and we're winning some hockey games."
These days, the youngsters pile into the dressing room after games and promptly check the ticker to see how the rest of the West has fared. Scoreboard watching! The Kings!
"Definitely after the game, you check to see how the teams around you in the standings are doing," Quick said. "It's a fun time."
The crazy part is the team should have won the one game it lost on that five-game trip, after it blew a 3-2 lead late in the third period and gave up two goals in Montreal to a Canadiens team that didn't deserve the two points. Then again, Quick stood on his head, making 41 saves, to preserve two points in Washington six days later, so maybe it all evened out in the end.
"That would have been a nice two points to grab [in Montreal], but if you look at what's been done over the last two weeks, you have to be happy with what's been done," Quick said. "Having said that, we can't get complacent. We have to move forward. It's all about Calgary [on Thursday night in Los Angeles] now."
Quick is a major contributor to the Kings' surprising turnaround. Recalled Dec. 16 from the AHL in Manchester, the 2005 third-round pick from Milford, Conn., has gone 11-6-0 with a .919 save percentage and 2.40 goals-against average.
We can tell you the Kings phoned around the league in November, kicking the tires on a few goalies. In the end, though, they didn't pull the trigger. It's the best deal GM Dean Lombardi never made. The team appears to have found its man in Quick, who also comes with a cheap price tag (he made $560,000 last season, is being paid $550,000 for this season and will take home $570,000 in 2009-10).
Not that Quick is sitting back and kicking his feet up. He knows 17 games do not make an NHL career.
"I just get ready for the next game and that game only," he said. "If you get too ahead of yourself, you forget to play in the present, and that's when things go awry."
The Kings have their work cut out for them, with 19 road games left and only 11 at home, including a five-game road trip and a six-gamer, as well. If Los Angeles somehow pulls off a postseason push without knocking off rival Anaheim in the process, the NHL would have all three California teams in the playoffs for the first time.
"Don't put too much pressure on us, but yeah, that would be a nice feat to accomplish," Quick said.
There hasn't been an all-California playoff series, either. Kings-Sharks, anyone?
February is a blah month for the average person, but not the Dallas Stars.
The team's senior PR man, Rob Scichili, sent us this interesting note: Dallas has been 23-5-1 in February during the past three seasons, which includes the current 3-1-0 mark so far this season heading into Wednesday night's game with Phoenix.
Things that make you go hmmmm.