2014 NHL Playoffs: L.A. Kings, Anaheim Ducks dealing with goalie controversies
You knew change was coming for the Los Angeles Kings after they fell behind 3-0 in their series with the San Jose Sharks.
Coach Darryl Sutter tinkered with his lines at practice ahead of tonight's pivotal Game 4 in L.A, moving winger Dustin Brown to the top line in an effort to get something out the team's struggling captain. And it worked, as the Kings staved off elimination.
Winger Tanner Pearson, solid in limited minutes in his series debut on Tuesday, was slated to skate with Jeff Carter and Tyler Toffoli with Mike Richards, coming off his best game in a long while, centering Kyle Clifford and Trevor Lewis. Jarret Stoll saddled up with wingers Dwight King and Justin Williams.
That's a lot of change. But there was one constant: Jonathan Quick in net.
And there was never any doubt.
Oh, his numbers? Yeah, they were terrible: his league-worst postseason slate of 5.78 GAA and .858 save percentage didn't look too swell next to the 1.86 GAA and .934 save pct. he put up last spring, let alone his Conn Smythe-winning stats from 2012.
That was way back when Quick was being mentioned alongside playoff legends Ken Dryden, Patrick Roy and Tim Thomas after he led the eighth-seeded Kings to one of the most unlikely Stanley Cup titles of all time.
It's understandable, given the time of year. Every goal is over-analyzed, every loss magnified. And there's been enough of both to call Quick's play into question.
Outside of the first periods in Games 2 and 3, Quick had not been sharp. His positioning has been overly aggressive. His glove hand hasn't been fast enough. His focus has been broken more than once by San Jose's crease-crashing forwards.
Struggling? Sure. But you gotta dance with the one what brung ya.
Quick won the Jennings Trophy this season. He was brilliant in Sochi. He's in the first year of a 10-year, $58 million deal.
Win or lose, he's the present, and future, of this franchise. He deserved the start.
Ducks messin' with the kids
The picture isn't quite so clear up the road in Orange County, where Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau is faced with a tough call ahead of Game 5 against Dallas on Friday night.
His decision to go with rookie Frederik Andersen over veteran Jonas Hiller looked inspired after the Ducks took the first two games of the series. Now? Not so much.
That's not to say that Andersen is the reason why the Stars clawed their way back into the series, but he sure didn't give the Ducks the stops they needed last night. Jamie Benn's goal early in the second period beat him glove side from the high slot. Vernon Fiddler's equalizer was worse, an inexcusable short-side goal that beat him high over the shoulder. (Yes, Fiddler went roof.)
You can read what you want into the coach's decision to yank Andersen after Cody Eakin's dagger -- that felt like a move geared more toward waking up his team than stopping the bleeding -- but Anaheim's stopper wasn't good enough last night. And when you've got options at hand like Boudreau does, they have to be weighed with the series at a tipping point.
If he truly believes that Andersen is suffering a crisis of confidence, then there's no way Boudreau can come back with him in Game 5.
But is Hiller really an upgrade? Remember, this is a guy who Boudreau didn't trust to start the series because he limped into the postseason with a 6-9-3 mark in his final 18 appearances. That unsightly record might have actually flattered the quality of his play .. .and nothing's happened in the past week to make those concerns go away.
Hiller is also the goalie who allowed seven goals on the final 61 shots he faced (an .885 save percentage) as the Ducks blew a 3-2 series lead over the underdog Red Wings last spring.
Veteran presence is one thing, but history, both recent and longer term, suggests that this might not be his moment.
The kid was dynamite during his intro to the NHL, going 3-0 with a 1.33 GAA and a .954 save percentage. He's thrived in big games, leading Team USA to the 2013 World Junior gold and then backstopping the Americans to a shootout win over Finland to clinch the bronze at the 2013 World Championships.
Pressure? Gibson seems to handle it alright.
But can Boudreau handle the heat if he hands it off to the kid ... and Gibson fails?
There are already rumblings that GM Bob Murray was irate with the team's effort after its Game 3 loss. He's probably not any happier now.
And Boudreau is a coach who has never gotten a team past the second round. These Ducks are good enough to do that and then some.
That puts him in a tight spot. The bold choice is the rookie. The numbers play is the vet. But on Friday morning, Boudreau announced that he was sticking with Andersen.
"[Game 3] was his first bad game in a while. I'm confident we'll see him bounce back tonight," the coach said.
He'd better or the temperature under Boudreau's posterior is likely to rise even more.