When Doug Wilson signed both Antero Niittymaki and Antti Niemi in the offseason, the perceived intent was to have a goaltending tandem where both netminders were capable of playing interchangeably. Although Niittymaki started the season well enough, the tandem fell apart as a result of both Niittymaki's injury and Niemi's incredible 24-6-4 stretch. It's clear that plans have changed since the beginning of the season, and even though it's unlikely that anyone would show major disappointment in the way things are now, the early promise of a solid one-two punch in net for the Sharks would have been nice to maintain. As it stands, San Jose has a clear number one in Niemi, while Niittymaki remains a shaky, and rusty, number two option.
Los Angeles doesn't have that problem. Instead, they might have one of the best goaltending tandems in the league with both Jonathan Quick and Jonathan Bernier capable of playing the number one role on most any team in the NHL. Quick is the clear number one, playing in 61 games this year. However, in the 25 games started or played in by Bernier, the young goalie has shown why he's one of the hottest prospects in the NHL.
Here's a quick rundown of their basic numbers.
|2010 - Jonathan Quick||61||3591||35||22||134||2.24||1631||1497||.918||6|
|2010 - Jonathan Bernier||25||1378||11||8||57||2.48||652||595||.913||3|
Jonathan Quick's conventional stats are a bit better than Bernier's; Quick's 2.24 goals against average and .918 save percentage are good for fifth and thirteenth in the NHL, respectively. By comparison, Antti Niemi is ranked eleventh in the NHL in GAA and twelfth in save percentage. Quick's win numbers are padded by his ungodly amount of shootout victories; he was an unfathomable 10-0 during the regular season in the skills competition. Luckily for San Jose, the playoffs switch to a five-on-five continuous overtime format.
Because of Quick's numbers, he's the obvious starter for game one and likely the entire series. However, if Quick falters significantly and is chased from a game or even the series, the drop off to the number-two option, Bernier, isn't as severe as it would be against a team such as Nashville or Phoenix. Both Los Angeles goalies are capable of playing a strong game between the pipes and either could give San Jose headaches over the next few weeks.
Yesterday, Jason Plank looked at Los Angeles' strong defensive corps; that unit definitely helps out their goaltenders and should be given some credit when discussing the success of either netminder during the regular season. Not all the praise should be heaped onto those six players, however, as both goaltenders have been more than solid through 82 games this year.
I bring this up in regards to the Kings' fourth ranked penalty kill. The Kings have been stellar shorthanded all season, their strong blueline play coupled with a group of industrious and responsible forwards ensure that not many shots reach their net in shorthanded situations. In total, just 372 shots made it through to Quick or Bernier all year with a man disadvantage.
Quick, more so than Bernier, has been up to the task. With a .903 save percentage, Quick plays a huge role on the shorthanded unit. As was discussed yesterday, goal prevention will be stressed by Kings' coach Terry Murray, especially with his top scorers Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams out for the first round (Williams may soon be back, but it's unlikely he'll be at full strength). If the Kings win this series, it will be in the form of low scoring games. Goaltending is going to be a huge part of that battle.
If the Kings penalty kill falters in the slightest, this series could be over in short order. The Sharks have one of the best power plays in the league, while the Kings have scored on just one of their last twenty-two. Even strength, the Sharks should win the scoring battle as well. Quick will have to be on his game in all situations to keep his team in it.
How the Kings defense stacks up against the Sharks offense is going to be the main focus of this series. Still, Los Angeles won't be able to prevent or block every shot, especially against a San Jose team which led the league in shots on goal with 34.5 this season.
While it's expected that San Jose advance to the second round, an elite performance by either Quick or Bernier could make that much harder for the Shaarks.