For a guy who’s at or near the top of every goalie stat in the NHL, the Kings current “#1 goaltender” Ben Scrivens is all of the sudden having trouble getting playing time.
Scrivens, who earned the backup position in LA, was thrust into the limelight when the Kings franchise goalie, Jonathan Quick, went down with a serious groin injury. Immediate concerns for the team were quickly replaced (pardon the pun) with adulation for a little-known goaltender who has only lost one game in regulation play in 10 starts since taking over. Scrivens, for all intents and purposes, has performed far beyond expectations… at least the expectations of most everyone not named Darryl Sutter, the Kings head coach.
This past Monday and Tuesday saw the Kings play the first back-to-back games against the Blues and Ducks respectively since Quick’s injury, leading to speculation that the Kings new backup goalie (and recent call up from the AHL) Martin Jones would get his first start in the NHL. Jones, who has performed well in Manchester (the Kings minor league affiliate) led the team to the top of the Eastern Conference. His call up to the big club marked an unexpected, but welcomed twist to his season as a result of Quick’s absence.
Back-to-back games often represent a perfect time to give the #1 goaltender a rest and give the backup much-needed playing time. But would Jones’ complete lack of NHL experience preclude Coach Sutter from starting the rookie? Especially on the road against a cross-town rival who is ahead of the Kings in the tight Western Conference standings? It seemed like a coin toss of a decision to most but in reality, it appears Sutter’s decision to start Jones was fairly easy. More on that in a moment.
Scrivens and the Kings beat an excellent Blues team handily at home on Monday 3-2, having been up much of the game 3-0 only to give up two late goals (one on a power play and one with the Blues goalie pulled). It was another strong performance for Scrivens overall. The following morning however, Jones left the ice first ahead of the Ducks game, indicating he would start, although no official announcement was made per Sutter’s policy. Jones did start and went on to win his first game in a stellar shootout performance, stopping all 9 Ducks shooters. It was later revealed that Sutter told Jones he would start immediately following the win over the Blues Monday night.
The next game wasn’t until Saturday against the Islanders at home. Naturally, Scrivens would resume his starting role, right? Not so fast. After Tuesday’s game, Sutter hinted at what would turn out to be serious concerns about Scrivens’ recent play. In his post-game interview, he said of starting Jones, “Why not?” He continued, “the other guy (Scrivens) is not used to playing every game, and some things are slipping in a little bit,” meaning he sees some bad habits starting creep into Scrivens game despite his strong numbers.
That was Tuesday night. Wednesday was an off day for the Kings and Thursday revealed nothing about who might start on Saturday. Friday, on the other hand, proved to be somewhat of a reporting mystery as the top Kings blog, LA Kings Insider, apparently left out a critical part of Sutter’s post-practice interview regarding Scrivens.
Side note: Like most NHL cities, LA’s hockey media constantly jockey for angles on stories about the team. Unfortunately, it doesn’t really matter who might get the scoop on a story because the vast majority of fans visit the ever popular LA Kings Insider blog believing it is the be-all and end-all for everything about the team. This is far from the truth as multiple sources not employed by the team itself often reveal information that gets overlooked by many so-called die hard fans. Such was the case Friday.
In his practice quotes reported by the Insider, Sutter didn’t even mention Scrivens name. However, later on Friday over on the old Insider blog at the Daily News, which has little-to-no fan interaction, this quote was reported regarding Scrivens bad habits alluded to earlier:
“Just little things,” Sutter said. “You can’t do it at this level. You’re going to get scored on. We did a lot of work with Ben at training camp to get him into our program. There’s a reason why we don’t give up a lot of shots. There’s a reason we don’t give up a lot of goals around our net. … A big reason is the goaltender. If he’s getting away from that, he’s not going to play.”
He’s not going to play… that’s a pretty big hint. Most fans had no clue Sutter said this on Friday. Indeed, Scrivens was hardly a topic on the chatty Insider. It wasn’t until Saturday morning, when Scrivens and Jones left the ice at nearly the same time, did speculation grow that Jones might get the start. But even this move, which is unusual because the backup goalie will typically stay on the ice after the pre-game skate to get in extra work, was considered a ploy by Sutter to keep the opposition guessing.
Sutter did drop another hint after the skate, however, claiming that Scrivens “has been off-and-on lately,” when clearly if we’re talking about hockey, Scrivens has been nothing short of lights out. The guessing continued as Scrivens led the team during warmups at Staples Center, which is an almost certain indicator of who the starting goaltender will be. But Sutter was not done with his chess moves as Jones stepped on the ice at game time to start his second consecutive NHL game. As it turned out, Jones recorded his first NHL shutout, an impressive performance that only adds to a brewing goalie controversy in Los Angeles.
After the game, Sutter added more fuel to the fire when he said Scrivens was “supposed to” start against the Islanders, not Jones. When asked after the game what changed after warmups, Sutter caustically replied, “I don’t have to clarify that.” Today, however, Sutter decided to supposedly clarify things by telling the LA Times that Scrivens was “dinged up” and “didn’t feel right” after warmups, leading to the decision to start Jones. However, it was also revealed that Sutter apparently told Jones he was going to start the game on Saturday afternoon, which is more than a small contradiction. That leaves us about as clear on the decision to start Jones over Scrivens as a foggy day at sea.
Was this Sutter sending a message to Scrivens about his recent play “slipping?” Did Sutter really tell Jones he was going to start as the Times reported? If so, why would he say it was Scrivens who was slated to be in net and not Jones? Did Scrivens really not feel well on Saturday? Or was that something Sutter made up out of whole cloth?
When asked this morning if he was expecting to start Saturday, Scrivens skirted the issue saying, “that’s the coach’s decision, and I’ll leave it at that.” When asked about being injured, he said, “I feel good, skated today.”
Before the game on Saturday, Kings star defenseman Drew Doughty had this to say about Scrivens:
“He’s been playing really well for us. He hasn’t been letting very many goals in, and he’s doing a great job back there for us. We have all the confidence in him, the same confidence we have with Jonathan Quick. For him to step up to the plate like that and play the way he’s playing, it’s a big confidence booster for the team, and it makes us happy for him, too.”
By all accounts, it seems Darryl Sutter isn’t nearly as confident as the rest of the team.
Next up: The Kings fill face Montreal on Tuesday and Toronto on Wednesday. Yes, another back-to-back scenario for the Kings and their goaltenders. As if it needed any, to add some more plot to this drama, Wednesday’s game will mark the Kings first matchup against Scrivens’ former team since the Kings acquired him and Matt Frattin in a trade that sent former Kings backup goaltender, Jonathan Bernier, to the Maple Leafs.
Who will start in goal? Stay tuned…