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Goaltending once again likely to be a key storyline for Kings this season

August 23, 2023, 6:27 PM ET [9 Comments]
Ben Shelley
Los Angeles Kings Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT
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For the second summer in a row, the Los Angeles Kings made a big splash to land a top forward via trade.

First it was Kevin Fiala last year, with the Kings prying him away from the cap-strapped Minnesota Wild. Then this year, the team added Pierre-Luc Dubois in a blockbuster deal with the Winnipeg Jets. That’s not even to mention the additions of both Phillip Danault and Viktor Arvidsson in the summer of 2021 as well, or the fact that the team did add and retain a major piece for their blue line, in Vladislav Gavrikov.

But with all the improvements to their skater group, the one area that’s fallen into the shadows a little bit heading into the season is in goal.

After dealing with disastrous goaltending between Jonathan Quick and Cal Petersen for the first couple months of the 2022-23 season, the Kings brought up Pheonix Copley mid-year, before also acquiring Joonas Korpisalo.

Copley was a pleasant surprise, helping to provide a bit of stability, but Korpisalo was the real game-changer for the team. The netminder was rock solid from the time he arrived in Los Angeles, posting an excellent .921 save percentage across 11 games. A small sample size, sure, but the Kings’ goaltending went from a clear weakness to a strength from the point Korpisalo was acquired.

However, the netminder signed a five-year contract with the Ottawa Senators (at a pretty reasonable $4M cap hit), leaving the Kings to explore other options. So just as quickly as Los Angeles seemed to have sorted out their goaltending issues, they may find themselves back in a similar spot.

With Pheonix Copley signed for next season, the team brought in 36-year-old Cam Talbot to join him in a tandem, as well as David Rittich as a third goalie.

Talbot is coming off a year in which he posted just an .898 save percentage in 36 games with the Ottawa Senators.

Rittich, on the other hand, got into just 21 games with the Winnipeg Jets in 2022-23, posting a .901 save percentage.

I’d typically be much more favourable towards the Kings signing Talbot at the price they did. Before his down year in Ottawa, Talbot had played almost 60 per cent of his team’s games in back-to-back seasons with the Minnesota Wild, posting above a .910 save percentage each year. While he shouldn’t be counted on for that many games with the Kings, he’s still a capable goalie and has shown in the past that he can bounce back after a poor season.

However, I think Talbot’s signing would've been much more justifiable if the Kings already had a proven starter (or at least fringe starter) to rely on. The reality is that while Pheonix Copley was a great surprise, he certainly showed his flaws at times and ended up finishing the year at just a .903 save percentage as well. I just don’t know how realistic it is that Copley is able to improve his numbers next year and take on a key role in net through a full season.

Rittich also isn’t someone the team should be calling upon much at all, with his .904 career save percentage as an indication of what kind of results they could expect if he’s used too often.

Essentially, the Kings are putting a lot of stock into the fact that Talbot is going to bounce back, despite being in his mid-30s. If that happens, Los Angeles could end up with average goaltending at a pretty excellent price. They have a strong enough roster that if they’re able to get that, they’ll be a dangerous team, and the gamble may be worth it.

If not, we could see another scenario like last year, where the team is forced to make a move mid-season at a position of weakness, scrambling to desperately solve a terrible goaltending situation.

Especially looking at the likely Pacific Division playoff picture, there’s a realistic chance the Kings could end up facing the Edmonton Oilers for a third year in a row in the postseason. Last year, Korpisalo actually had a fairly decent series overall, but even he was lit up to manage just an .892 save percentage across six games. I don’t see a mix of Talbot/Copley/Rittich being able to shutdown Connor McDavid and company.

You have to think the Kings’ need to find cost-effective goaltending is a direct result of the Pierre-Luc Dubois trade, which I talked about in an article last month, looking at the blockbuster deal. It just seems like if you’re going to cheap out somewhere on your roster though, goaltending probably isn’t the spot.

The one silver lining that I also brought up in that article, however, is that this clearly isn’t a long-term solution for the Kings. All three of the Kings’ goalies will become unrestricted free agents next season, just as the salary cap finally takes a substantial jump. As a result, there’s a chance we see the Kings target a legitimate starting goalie next offseason, when they have the money to do so.

If that’s the case, and they were both able to lock up Dubois long-term this offseason, then actually find a true, long-term solution in 2024 (via free agency or trade), suffering through one year of a makeshift goaltending trio could prove to be worth it.

But it doesn’t change the fact that for this year at least, just as the Kings have really established themselves as contenders in the West, goaltending is likely once again going to be a point of concern. Perhaps it works out and one of Talbot or Copley really takes hold of the starting role and gives the team some stability in net. For a roster that’s quickly turned into a pretty well-rounded force though, goaltending is the clear weak spot which seems destined to be one of the top storylines of the season, for better or worse.

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