Normally, I consider the shootout (or penalty shot) to be a separate animal from anything that happens in the course of normal hockey. The cat and mouse contest of wits and wills between shooter and goalie takes place in a vacuum of time that simply doesn't exist within a game. However, the save that the Los Angeles Kings’ Jonathan Quick makes on Toronto’s William Nylander on March 2 is everything anyone ever needed to know about Quick, and people’s reactions to him, encapsulated in one perfect confrontation.
He made a save with his glove behind his back!
Until the final television replay, everyone watching assumed that’s exactly what he did, and the subsequent highlight shows mostly focused on the replay angle that didn't show what actually happened.
So, what did actually happen?
Quick challenges out just over halfway to the hash marks as Nylander loops to left of center, and begins angling toward the net.
Nylander angles his left skate through the inner portion of the left face-off circle, holding the puck on his forehand moving through the slot, and Quick begins to retreat just as Nylander crosses the tops of the circles.
As Nylander reaches the deep hash mark, he draws his stick back slightly to fake a snapshot.
At first, it appears that Quick completely bites on the fake. Or does he? He drops his stick paddle down, which seals the ice and combines with his low stance to effectively close his 5-hole.
What he doesn't do, though, is completely seal his right pad. He only partially drops it, maintaining his inside edge engagement with both skates.
This allows him to continue his rearward momentum, so that when Nylander closes his blade over the puck and pulls it to his backhand, Quick is still able to drive his right pad back just outside the post, rather than simply reach it back from a static position.
As he extends his right pad, Quick rotates his body counterclockwise, unbelievably, in order to reach his glove around to cover at least some of the space above his pad.
Nylander isn’t quite able to elevate the puck over Quick’s right pad.
Quick's follow through takes him past the right post, with both his right pad and his left arm outside the net. His head has been turned away from Nylander since his left skate push. He knows that Nylander hasn't scored, though, because he is actually looking into the net behind him!
Quick is pretty much the dividing line of goalie analysis. His career advanced statistics are decidedly average, yet he has 2 Stanley Cups to his name and is often a Vezina Trophy finalist. His postseason success credits an enormous contribution from the strong defensive system that the Kings play, yet his play during their Stanley Cup runs has been a major factor in their success. His backups have done remarkably well in his place, yet no one would suggest that the Kings would win a Stanley Cup with anyone else in net.
I first wrote about Quick as a fledgling blogger trying to purge my brain of my hatred for the Kings prior to the 2014 Stanley Cup Final.
Just as the coach embodies this team, so does The Goalie. Jonathan Quick is hyperaggressive in his positioning, he is nasty against opposing players anywhere near the crease, and he is a master of every trick there is to control the tempo of the game. His defense knows how to play with him. They block shots, they crush opponents in the slot, they knock players down before they can get at the rebounds Quick leaves. With any other team, his extreme style might be exposed, and he occasionally has been during these playoffs. San Jose lit him up in the first 2 games. Finland put 5 past him this year in the Olympic Bronze medal game.
The secret to Quick is that he is always intimidating, no matter how many goals he gives up. Like everyone else around him, he just seems not to care. In the regular season, and on save percentage charts, he isn't nearly as impressive as he is in the playoffs, but he isn't about the regular season or save percentages. The essence of Jonathan Quick is that if you have one shot from the slot to defeat the Kings, he is going to be attacking, taking away your time and space. You may beat him and score and celebrate, but you are going to have to earn it. In the biggest moment of your life, he will make you uncomfortable, but he makes sure you, and everyone else for that matter, knows that he could care less what happens up until it does. It isn't a battle of wits. He is coming at you, fast and hard, and you know you have to deal with it. It's a huge advantage in the biggest moments on the biggest stage.
The recipe to beat Quick is not to set up pretty chances. It is to carry the puck to the middle of the ice, get traffic in front of the net, fire at will and be ready for rebounds, bounces off the boards, or sharp-angled cross ice passes. Good luck with that against this Kings D. You might get scoring chances; you will be crushed.
Ok, so the idea that he doesn’t care is a bit of hyperbole. Of course he cares. The splintered sticks littering NHL arenas are a testament to how much he cares. The point is, that in the moment, he doesn’t care. He does what he does, and he forces opponents to deal with him.
Among the many interesting things about Quick is the completely wrong concept that he’s all about covering the low part of the net at the expense of the high, that his scrambling style and recovery skills somehow aren’t based in an enormous amount of technique. In fact, Quick’s technique is quite remarkable. His trademark low, crouched stance gives him puck visibility between legs rather than around bodies, allows him complete confidence in his low coverage, and gives him the ability to read a shot’s trajectory as close to its origin as possible. The deception of his stance is that the high net is open, but his ability to read a shot and his preloaded, powerful leg position give him the ability to explode forward into vertical angles and stop high shots with great efficiency.
The main advantage Quick plays with is his confidence in his own recovery skills, which are based on his exceptional flexibility and core strength. This Nylander save is a perfect example. He is able to drive his paddle down in response to Nylander’s shot fake just in case he actually shoots, but still keep his right pad off the ice, his right skate engaged, and maintain the backward momentum necessary to cover a deke in either direction.
What actually happens against Nylander is that Quick makes a fairly routine, though excellent, save, using classic breakaway technique from the waist down.
He retreats to the top of the crease, partially reacts to Nylander’s fake shot, but retains enough leg balance and power to push his right pad into position. As with most breakaway shots that hit a goaltender's outstretched pad, had Nylander elevated the puck slightly higher, he would have scored. The non-traditional, barely human glove move Quick employs is just entertaining, and to some degree intimidating, window dressing.
He made a save with his glove behind his back!!
Ladies and gentlemen, Jonathan Quick.