| LOS ANGELES
LOS ANGELES If a team is only as good as the quality of its backup players, then the Los Angeles Kings can lay claim to having no peers in the National Hockey League when it comes to their remarkable goaltending strength.
Jonathan Quick, who won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player during the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs, played 16 games this season before sustaining a groin injury on November 12 which is expected to take six weeks to heal.
The absence of the inspirational Quick could have posed all sorts of problems for the Kings defense but there has been no drop-off whatsoever with either Ben Scrivens, his initial backup as goalie, or, most recently, rookie Martin Jones.
Scrivens, acquired by the Kings from the Toronto Maple Leafs in June with winger Matt Frattin and a draft pick for backup goalie Jonathan Bernier, was an instant revelation as he started out 4-0-1, helped by a two-game-plus shutout streak.
He has gone on to play in a total of 16 games this season for an overall record of 7-3-4, including a league-high save percentage of .941 and a joint-best three shutouts.
Scrivens, however, needed backup of his own to enjoy some much-needed rest after a hectic run of game action and fellow Canadian Jones has risen to the occasion in stunning fashion.
Recalled by the Kings on November 13 from the American Hockey League's Manchester Monarchs, Jones has been near impregnable in launching his league career with a perfect 6-0-0 record, the first goaltender to do so for the franchise.
The 23-year-old, a standout goalie at junior level with the Calgary Hitmen, made 24 saves against the struggling Edmonton Oilers (11-22-3) on Tuesday to complete his third shutout this season as Los Angeles eased to a 3-0 win.
"He's a big, calm guy in the net and he makes big saves for us," said left wing Dwight King, who opened the scoring for the Kings with a wrist shot at late in the first period. "It's nice to have that back there.
"It's great, obviously, when you have a goaltender that makes the big saves look easy. It's a calming energy on the ice and when you have a confident group of guys in front of a great goalie it makes for good outcomes."
Center Anze Kopitar was also lavish with his praise of Jones after the Kings (23-8-4) won for the seventh time in eight games, climbing to third place in the 14-team Western Conference.
"He bailed my ass a couple of times tonight so I'm very thankful for that," the Slovenian international smiled. "He's been solid back there and that's all you want from your goaltender.
"You have him in there to make the routine saves and once in a while he throws out those big legs of his and makes a huge save. It's definitely a big momentum for us."
The 6-foot-4 Jones pulled off several exceptional saves for the Kings in front of a sellout crowd of 18,118 at Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles on Tuesday but he was quick to praise the efforts of his defensemen.
"The guys have done a great job in front of the net, picking up sticks and taking away second chances," Jones said of the Kings, who have allowed no more than two goals in 19 of their last 20 games.
"It's been a huge help on myself and Scrivs (Scriven). There were a couple of saves in the second period there but again we did a great job in front of the net tonight."
Asked to reflect on his sensational statistics of just five goals allowed in six games, a save percentage of .972 and a goals against average of .82, Jones replied: "I'm happy with the start, obviously, but that's all it is - it's a start.
"I want to make sure that I keep getting better here. It's not always going to go as well as this and I just want to make sure that I am doing all the little things and taking care of the details of my game.
"I'm sure this summer it will sink in maybe a little more but right now I just want to keep it going. We have three more games till the break, home games, and we want to make sure that we take care of business on home ice."
(Editing by Frank Pingue)