Hot take time.

It is not easy to be really good at something all of the time. Even if someone is really good at doing something – something that they do pretty much every day – chances are that every once and a while they have a day where they aren’t quite as good at whatever they do than usual. As Alexander Pope said, “To err is human.” Bad days happen, whether we like it or not.

We strive for consistency in what we do because complete consistency is basically unattainable. That goes for whether you work as a cube monkey or a professional athlete. Obviously some are better at sustaining a high level of performance than others; which explains why some hockey careers end in high school and others end with a Stanley Cup parade. But regardless of where a person hones their trade, no one is immune to falling in an old fashioned rut.

Since December has turned into January, it means that the Los Angeles Kings are currently battling their way through their annual case of the winter blues. Now to say the team is struggling is slightly a stretch and probably more of an indication of how accustomed Kings fans have become with success; the Kings are in a playoff spot at the time of this writing and still managed a winning record (6-5-3) in December. But it is tough to argue against those saying the team is currently underachieving, considering that they have only won three of their last nine road contests, have given up three or more goals in eight of their last 12 and have recently taken a few particularly ugly losses in Buffalo, Montreal and St. Louis, as well as the hiccups against Calgary.

Now, most seasoned hockey fans, particularly Kings fans as of late, know better than to get all worked up over short-term deficiencies. Brief depressions are a byproduct of the cyclical nature of an 82-game season, and are in no way a valid reason to blow up a roster and ship your star players elsewhere.





Well this just got awkward… 

But still, when things aren’t all hunky dory, fans, pundits and a large portion of the degenerates that populate the wasteland known as Hockey Twitter love to find reasons why their favorite team is stuck in a rut, and that’s when fingers get to pointing. When the scapegoat is neither the hockey operations regime nor the coaching staff (see: Oilers, Edmonton), the fashionable choice is typically the goaltender.

There is some basis to the claims that Jonathan Quick’s recent play has left a lot to be desired. He was not-so-subtly singled out by Darryl Sutter after the collapse in St. Louis. And then this happened:

His numbers in late November through December are nowhere near the dominance he showed to start the season.

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While it is tempting to think there is a short-term problem here, with growing concern for all the threes and fours in the goals against column, in goaltending the short-term is practically meaningless. For successful NHL goaltenders, a slump is simply that: A temporary dip in performance that will soon pass, especially when it is plaguing someone with the mental fortitude of Quick.

For a telling example of this toughness, you only need to look back eight months, when Quick and his teammates were handed a pair of beat downs to begin the first round with the San Jose Sharks. The Sharks tallied a staggering 12 goals on Quick and Co. in the first two games, leading a fair amount of people calling for Martin Jones to step in to the starting role as the series switched to Los Angeles. But after hearing Quick address the media when things were seemingly at their lowest point, it was obvious that he knew that it was only a matter of time before the pendulum would swing back to the other direction.

“I don’t know if it’s not feeling as ‘sharp,’ it’s just that I’m not doing the job. I feel fine. When I’m going into the games, I feel good and I think it’s going to go the way we want it to go, but it hasn’t. You’ve got a routine that you’ve had for years that you feel works. It’s worked in the past. It hasn’t worked the past two games, but you’re just going to stick with your routine and you focus on the details.” – Quick prior to Game 3 against the Sharks in LA.

The mental aspect of being a goaltender far and away exceeds the physical aspect. Through years and years of training and game experience, a goalie develops the routine that Quick alluded to: A routine where when they are on their game, they can strap on the pads and basically go into autopilot, without thinking about much of anything. Practices are the time to think and make adjustments for netminders, playing games is mostly muscle-memory and relying on instincts.

Mental toughness comes in to play when the results aren’t there. How a goalie reacts to giving up an untimely goal or a bad game is where his true colors emerge. Does a struggling goaltender resort to tinkering and overcompensate for mistakes, which could lead to even more of them, or does he choose to have selective amnesia and carry on like nothing happened? Over the course of a season, a playoff season and an entire career, having a short-term memory is one of the best traits a goalie can have. Quick was able to keep his sails steady despite the hellacious turbulence Games 1-3 presented against the Sharks, and look what happened.

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Every single hockey player goes through ups and downs over the course of a season. It just so happens the roller coaster ride tends to be more intense for goaltenders, a position where the dividing line between success and failure is razor-thin. That was not any clearer than the end of the game against the Flames.

A millimeter can be all the difference between a puck ricocheting off the post and safely out of the net or off the post and straight in the net, just as a single bounce of the puck can change a shot’s trajectory a full four feet.

Legitimately nightmare-inducing for any goalie

The sad truth for those who don the mask and pads is that there’s just no way to stop them all. And if there was, the NHL would try and make their equipment smaller and the nets bigger. Where the puck-stopping creme rises from the rest is when adversity rears its ugly head. Quick, as well as the Kings as a whole, have proven time and time again that they are perfectly capable of playing their way out of a little slump. Such as an 0-3 series deficit.

So bring on the annual winter doldrums, they can’t last forever.

Knick Rickle was a former junior and college goaltender and is a current aspiring journalist and mediocre adult league goaltender. While growing up in Minneapolis, he learned how to play by attending Robb Stauber's goalie school, which unbeknownst to him at the time was the first step in becoming a Kings fan. The rest of the steps came when became probably the first person ever to move to California from Minnesota to play hockey. He currently is unemployed, holds an English degree, while contributing to #TeamTRH, so you be the judge how his hockey career turned out. You can follow KnickRickle on Twitter @KnickRickle.