Blackhawks click against Kings goalie Jonathan Quick
BY MARK LAZERUS Staff Reporter May 23, 2014 8:54PM
The Hawks have been successful against Jonathan Quick because of their ability to generate scoring chances in transition. | AP
Updated: June 25, 2014 6:15AM
LOS ANGELES — There are moments, such as the fateful Blackhawks 2-on-1 in the second period of Game 2 of the Western Conference final, when Jonathan Quick looks almost superhuman — so fast, so agile, so competitive, so unbeatable.
On that one, Kris Versteeg feathered a beautiful little saucer pass over a prone Willie Mitchell’s stick to Brent Seabrook, who had an open net to shoot at — until, suddenly, he didn’t. Quick slid over and made a spectacular arm save to keep the puck out of the net and keep the Kings in the game long enough to take it over.
It was the kind of save Quick seems to make all the time.
Just not against the Blackhawks.
The numbers are staggering. In seven playoff games against the Hawks (he’s won two of them), Quick has a 2.71 goals-against average — it’s 2.13 against the rest of the league. Against the Hawks, he has a .895 save percentage — it’s .928 against the rest of the league.
The Hawks’ startling success against Quick extends to the much larger sample size of the regular season, too. In 19 regular-season games against the Hawks, Quick is 6-12-1 with a 2.76 GAA and .910 save percentage.
The Hawks, like no other team in the Western Conference, have made Quick look very much human.
Like with any goalie, you’ll hear the Hawks talk about taking Quick’s eyes away — to create so much traffic in front of the net that he can’t see the puck. And considering Quick stays so low and is so good at covering the bottom half of the net, shooting high is key, too. But everybody knows that. What has allowed the Hawks to be so successful against Quick is the amount of transition chances they generate against a defensive-minded, puck-possession team that doesn’t typically allow many.
While the Minnesota Wild played so conservatively that they didn’t allow the Hawks to get any sort of rush chances, the Kings play just aggressively enough to give the Hawks some openings for quick strikes.
“They’re a different style of team than a lot of the other teams in the West,” Kings defenseman Drew Doughty said. “A lot of other teams in the West kind of have a similar style to us, where they’re physical, they like to keep possession of the puck, they take pucks to the net hard. And we usually edge teams out because our team’s a little better at that kind of game than the other teams are. But this [Hawks] team, they play completely different. They rely on making turnovers, they rely on their speed. Where other teams have chances, usually Quickie makes a save. They have so many guys that can score on this team, when they get those chances, the puck goes in the net.”
It starts on defense, with opportunistic defensemen and backchecking forwards forcing turnovers. Then it’s about skilled defensemen who can make the kind of long stretch passes that spring the Hawks through the neutral zone with speed before the Kings can clog it up — both Hawks goals in Game 2 were scored off such passes, one from Keith to Nick Leddy, one from Johnny Oduya to Ben Smith.
Then it comes down to skilled forwards that can finish off the play. The save on Seabrook was phenomenal — but it’s not something that even Quick can do every time. Give the Hawks enough odd-man rushes and breakaways, and they’re going to score goals. Even Patrick Kane’s series-winner against Quick last spring came on a two-on-one with Jonathan Toews after the Hawks created a turnover at the Kings blue line.
“It’s those types of opportunities that maybe sets them apart from other teams,” Kings captain Dustin Brown said. “When they have odd-man rushes, it’s in the net. They don’t miss those golden opportunities. That’s how our season ended last year.”
Of course, much of it has to do with pure skill. The Hawks were the highest-scoring team in the league this season, and have made plenty of great goaltenders look ordinary in recent seasons. But their mastery of Quick is particularly eye-catching, given the aura he’s had since his remarkable run in the 2012 playoffs, when he won the Conn Smythe Trophy with a mind-boggling .946 save percentage and 1.41 GAA.
The Hawks relish the opportunity to test themselves against elite goaltenders, even though it’s never easy.
“It seems like there are so many elite goalies in the league right now, said Kane, who played in front of Quick for Team USA at the Olympics. “Seems like every goalie we play against is going to be one of the top in the league.”
Said a smirking Toews: “I guess you’d rather go against a goaltender who lets in more goals than not. But it is what it is, so we’ve got to do what we’ve got to do to score.”
Yes, that means keeping Quick moving side-to-side. And it means getting traffic in front and digging for rebounds and looking for deflections and shooting high and all that standard stuff. But more than anything, it means being good in your own zone, so you can zip right through the neutral zone, then finish it off with numbers in the offensive zone. The Hawks do that better than maybe any team in the league.
And not even Quick can stop them all.
“We have a skilled team,” Bryan Bickell said. “If we get the opportunity, we’re going to score.”