The Los Angeles Kings’ season got off to a dreadful start and it wasn’t just their early 0-3 record that had the team’s brass and fans concerned. The club lost their top goaltender Jonathan Quick in the opening game of the season due to a groin injury and it appears he’ll be on the shelf for at least three months. even after deciding against surgery. Quick is a workhorse who has played over 60 games a season five times since earning the starting role back in 2009/10. In fact he twice appeared in more than 70 contests and also backstopped the Kings to a pair of Stanley Cup championships during that period.
With Quick on the injured list, Los Angeles turned to 29-year-old backup Jeff Zatkoff to take over in the crease and also called up 34-year-old Peter Budaj from their Ontario Reign farm team of the American Hockey League (AHL). Zatkoff allowed just one goal against when replacing Quick for two periods in the season opener. However, he then allowed four goals against in a defeat to the Flyers and was pulled in favour of Budaj after allowing five goals in two periods in a 6-3 loss to Minnesota. His goals-against-average for the season stands at 4.38 with a save percentage of 83.9. Budaj then managed to beat Dallas 4-3 in overtime to lift the team’s record to 1-3.
Bad luck struck again as Zatkoff joined Quick on the injured list on October 22nd after suffering a groin injury during the morning skate while preparing to meet the Vancouver Canucks. This resulted in 24-year-old Jack Campbell also being called up from the Reign as the new backup. Budaj got the start against Vancouver and played well enough to win his second straight 4-3 overtime game even after watching his teammates blow a 3-0 lead. In past years, Los Angeles had some depth in goal with capable netminders such as Jonathan Bernier, Ben Scrivens, Martin Jones and Jhonas Enroth filling in admirably for Quick when needed.
However, all four of them are now with other teams while Zatkoff won the backup job this season with just 35 games of NHL experience to his name. The injury situation leaves Budaj as the starter by default and the Kings are hoping he can bring his AHL form with him to the NHL level. Budaj posted a 93.2 save percentage down on the farm last season along with a 1.75 goal-against average, but his start against Vancouver was just his fourth NHL appearance in the past two years. The Kings thought they had a good goaltending prospect in Patrik Bartosak, but he was let go last season after being charged with domestic violence. At the moment, it looks like Los Angeles will have to see how they fare with Budaj and Campbell between the pipes.
If they begin to falter, the franchise may have to look for some help via a trade until Quick returns. They may also regret not re-signing last year’s backup Enroth, as he inked a deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs as a free agent. Budaj could be a capable fill-in for Quick since he has 300 games of NHL experience with a record of 127-107 along with a 90.3 save percentage and 2.76 goals-against-average. However, Campbell has just one game of NHL experience under his belt with Dallas and he allowed six goals against in 47 shots during it.
If the Kings decide to trade for a goalie they need to follow the salary cap rules for long-term injured players and it doesn’t look like they have much cap space left. The Winnipeg Jets recently place goaltender Ondrej Pavelec on waivers and sent him to the AHL’s Manitoba Moose, so he could be an option. Also, with Las Vegas entering the NHL next season the league will be holding an expansion draft for the newcomers. This will result in several goaltenders being made available to the Vegas franchise and some clubs will be trying to negotiate trades before it takes place. If they’re lucky, the Kings may be able to land a suitable veteran via some creative trade activity. No matter how you look at it, the Kings best solution will likely need to be a Quick one.