What has Dean Lombardi done?
It's a question many Los Angeles Kings fans must have been asking early on this season.
Jonathan Quick was off to a slow start and Jonathan Bernier was long gone. Lombardi traded Bernier to the Toronto Maple Leafs in the offseason in exchange for Matt Frattin and Ben Scrivens. Frattin struggled mightily early in the season, while Scrivens remained on the bench as Quick's backup.
It seemed clear that Toronto had "won" the trade.
Fast-forward to late November. Quick is on injured reserve because of a groin injury and Scrivens has been dominant in his place. Frattin is improving, but the play of Scrivens alone is enough to silence any critics of the Bernier trade.
In fact, Scrivens has played so well he may have the potential to be a starting goaltender in the NHL.
Scrivens made four appearances prior to Quick being injured in overtime of the Kings' November 12 game versus the Buffalo Sabres.
Two were relief appearances during which he stopped 11 of 13 shots. His first start was a 20-save shutout against the Florida Panthers. In his second start, he allowed three goals on 33 shots to the Phoenix Coyotes. As of November 28, that's his only regulation loss of the season.
Scrivens is 5-0-3 in Quick's absence and hasn't allowed more than two goals in any of those eight games. With these consistent performances, he has managed to work his way to the top of the league in a few key statistical categories.
|Scrivens' 2013-14 Stats|
|6 (22nd)||.947 (1st)||1.48 (T-1st)||3 (1st)|
Taking those numbers into account, the answer as to whether he's more than a backup seems obvious. But is it possible that Scrivens is simply benefiting from strong team defense? Or perhaps this is a hot streak and Scrivens won't keep it up long-term.
The Kings do possess a group of strong two-way forwards and elite players like Anze Kopitar, who buy into the defensive system Darryl Sutter has established. They also have an All-Star defenseman in Drew Doughty and a veteran shutdown blueliner in Willie Mitchell.
However, they've dealt with a number of injuries in recent weeks, including to Jeff Carter, who missed 10 games with a foot injury. Tyler Toffoli, Linden Vey and Tanner Pearson have all been called up from Manchester and spent significant time in the lineup.
These are three talented forwards with great offensive upside, but they haven't been particularly strong in their own end.
This, combined with a variety of line combinations, means L.A. hasn't played as well as it's capable of.
Scrivens hasn't had it easy—he's seen a large amount of rubber in those eight starts. On average, the Kings have allowed 29.5 shots per game since Quick went down.
As for whether or not he can sustain this success over time, that's hard to say. There has only been one other time in Scrivens' NHL career when he's played at least eight consecutive games, and that was last February with the Maple Leafs.
Scrivens played extremely well, posting back-to-back shutouts and recording a save percentage higher than .905 in seven out of nine games in that stretch. He also faced 30 or more shots in seven of those nine contests.
Yes, this is a small sample size, but it suggests that Scrivens will thrive if he's given a block of consecutive starts.
At age 27, Scrivens has limited NHL experience—even for a backup. He spent four years at Cornell, went undrafted and made stops in the ECHL and AHL before eventually making his NHL debut at age 25.
He understands how tough it is to get to this point and has always made the most of his opportunities. Dating all the way back to his college days, HockeyDB.com indicates that he hasn't had a season where he's posted a save percentage below .900. He has solid positioning, good rebound control and a unique glove hand.
Scrivens is a smart, mature individual who appears confident in goal, regardless of the situation.
Kopitar's comments following a 1-0 loss to the Colorado Avalanche show that Scrivens' teammates are convinced he can get the job done. "He kept us [in] all the way. We’re really comfortable having him back there and he's given us a chance every night," Kopitar told Kevin Baxter of the Los Angeles Times.
His teammates should feel confident in front of him. Not only did Scrivens come up just 11 minutes short of besting Quick's franchise shutout streak, he was also named the NHL's first star of the week.
With Quick's return still a few weeks away, it's a little early to start speculating about a goaltending controversy. However, if Scrivens can somehow maintain this level of play, he would force the Kings' management and coaching staff to at least play him more often than they originally anticipated.
Could Scrivens be a legitimate No. 1 netminder in the NHL in the coming years? Probably not on a team that needs a goalie to carry it each and every night. After all, Scrivens hasn't even appeared in an NHL playoff game yet.
But on a strong, defensive-minded team like the Kings, he may be able to handle the majority of the workload.
Of course, we will just have to wait and see what Lombardi thinks, as Scrivens' two-year, $1.225 million contract expires after this season.
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