Even before the Kings’ agonizing 10-losses-in-11-games freefall reached a point where they’d scored just 19 goals in their 10 failed missions, they had already been outright owned by their former goalies.
Saturday, they seem certain to face the man who was once the ultimate Kings netminder, Conn Smythe winner and two-time Stanley Cup champion Jonathan Quick, in a homecoming that could turn into a day of reckoning.
Quick, who was callously discarded last season in a move that upset his teammates and puzzled some observers as to its necessity, has made out just fine since the Kings sent him packing.
He was traded a second time, to the Vegas Golden Knights, who etched his name onto the Stanley Cup for a third time. Then, he signed with his former favorite team, the New York Rangers, and turned in an early-season performance worthy of his childhood idol Mike Richter. He won his first nine decisions, including a 4-1 manhandling of the Kings at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 10.
Saturday, Quick and the Metropolitan Division-leading Rangers could elevate the Kings’ already nuclear crisis from Three-Mile Island levels to full-blown Chernobyl status.
Not long ago, the Kings and Rangers were jockeying around the top of the NHL’s points percentage leaderboard while clubs like Nashville and the archrival Edmonton Oilers, who’ve eliminated the Kings in consecutive first rounds of the postseason, were staring up at them. On Thursday, both the Predators and Oilers leapfrogged the Kings, relegating them to a wild-card spot and leaving them near no longer being a piece of the present playoff puzzle.
The steely Quick could be showing a rare grin postgame, as he hasn’t been the only former Kings goalie to enfeeble his old chums this season. Martin Jones shut them out at home in perhaps their poorest performance during their ongoing catastrophe and even Cal Petersen got his first win since November of 2022 when he, former Kings defenseman Sean Walker and the Philadelphia Flyers beat the Kings on Nov. 11.
Petersen and Walker were dumped at a cost –– a second-round pick, prospect defenseman Helge Grans and around $4 million in retained salary over two seasons –– but Walker could net the Flyers a first-rounder at the trade deadline. That’s if they decide to move him, since he’s thrived and Philadelphia sits right behind the Rangers in the Metro. The Flyers are six points ahead of the Kings in the league standings despite having missed the playoffs in each of the past three seasons.
The Western standings have become the stuff of existential dread for the Kings, whose gap behind first-place Vancouver has widened to a 14-point canyon. Noticeably closer rest the Winnipeg Jets, leading the Central Division and sitting just two points behind Vancouver in the conference.
Winnipeg was the city that hosted the Kings the night Quick was traded –– a move that the Forum Report’s Jon Rosen reported was heavily insulated from media inquiries –– as well as the former squad of struggling marquee trade acquisition Pierre-Luc Dubois. Consequently, Winnipeg is also the current club of three former Kings, including Gabe Vilardi, whose four-point night lit Crypto.com Arena ablaze on Dec. 13. Dubois, who had some effective shifts but nothing to show for them Thursday, has not taken any pressure whatsoever off battle-scarred Anze Kopitar and Dubois actually finished the match on the wing rather than at center.
General Manager Rob Blake seemed resigned to the fact that the salary-cap crunch caused by his offseason moves, most notably the Dubois acquisition, was a fact of life rather than something of his own doing in a 15-minute session with local media on Thursday. After previously responding with a platitude about making the team better in regards to his hindsight view of the Quick trade and how it was handled, he had another opportunity Thursday when he was asked by the AP’s Dan Greenspan.
“I’m not sure there,” Blake responded in a hastened cadence. “I think he should be remembered this weekend for [being] the best goalie in our organization, and celebrated that way, yes.
NY RANGERS AT KINGS
When: Saturday, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Crypto.com Arena
How to watch: KCAL (Ch. 9)