Pacific: Kings’ Quick top player in division

By Andrew Knoll

 

Photo: Unheralded goaltender Jonathan Quick has led the Los Angeles Kings throughout much of the 2011-12 season and taking his game to another level (courtesy of

Ric Tapia/Icon SMI)

The Pacific Division could be summarized in a single word this season: Parity. While the teams have experienced difficulty separating themselves from one another, there have been some immensely successful individuals who have stood out among their peers in the Pacific.

Here, then, is the top performers from the Pacific Division for the 2011-12 season.

Top Coach: Dave Tippett, Phoenix Coyotes – Tippett’s rigid defensive system has proven successful in the division, first with Dallas and most recently with Phoenix. This season, however, it has been Tippett’s flexibility that has made him an obvious choice here and a Jack Adams candidate once again. Riddled with injuries on the blue line, shorthanded up front and without a great deal of help from their farm system, Tippett has kept the Coyotes competitive. Even in recent games where the pace has been quicker and the shot totals have been higher than he might like, Tippett has kept the Coyotes on track in their playoff march. With a below average payroll and uncertainty at the top of the organization, Tippett has the Coyotes within centimeters of their third straight playoff berth. Elsewhere, Glen Gulutzan also did an outstanding job as a first-year head coach in Dallas while Bruce Boudreau and Darryl Sutter quickly put their signature on their new clubs after taking over mid-season. No coach has a higher winning percentage than Todd McLellan since he took the reins of the Sharks.

Top Defenseman: Dan Boyle, San Jose Sharks – While Boyle has not had a career season or shown the consistency he has in some campaigns, he still carries a massive load for the Sharks. He led the Pacific in both scoring and average time on ice this season, while also leading the Western Conference in shots on goal. Los Angeles’s Drew Doughty turned in a similar campaign with a stronger defensive acumen, but his totals fell short and he has better seasons ahead. Boyle, a veteran warrior, has played through personal and team-wide adversity this season and continued his surprising career as a No. 1 defenseman. Boyle has also thrived in different pairings as his regular partner, Douglas Murray, has battled injuries this season. Keith Yandle also had another quietly outstanding campaign playing in all situations and proving to be one of the most mobile rearguards in the NHL once again this season.

Top Forward: Ray Whitney, Phoenix Coyotes – Whitney has been the most consistent, most creative and most reliable forward in any Pacific lineup this season. His 75 points and +25 rating are both division bests . Whitney thrived in a division filled with outstanding two-way forwards like Joe Thornton, Anze Kopitar, Logan Couture and Loui Eriksson as well as explosive offensive talents like Teemu Selanne, Michael Ryder and Jamie Benn. The Coyotes have often gone as Whitney has gone, with him piecing together long point streaks through every winning stretch of any length for Phoenix. Whitney became a member of the exclusive 1,000-point club this season, cementing the greatness of one of the most understated careers in recent memory.

Most Valuable Player & Top Goaltender: Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings – In a division full of proven No. 1s, including the phenomenal Kari Lehtonen and scorching hot Mike Smith, Quick has managed to stand heads above his heavy competition. Quick’s sub-2.00 goals against average and league-leading 10 shutouts have come despite having limited offensive support for most of the season. He has been a beacon of consistency and master of understatements, downplaying his huge saves and clutch performances on a nightly basis. Quick has enjoyed the finest season of his career despite the adversity of having a low-scoring club, a change behind the bench and limited national attention. It will be one of the larger snubs in recent memory if he is not nominated for the Vezina Trophy and, with St. Louis relying on a tandem in net, Quick will easily be the strongest candidate from the Western Conference. Few if any successful teams have leaned harder on one player than the Kings have on Quick, who will wind up with 69 starts, two short of a career-high. He will wrap up the year with career-best numbers across the board otherwise, currently toting a .931 save percentage while ranking in the top five in every major goaltending category.