A few days ago, Los Angeles Kings goaltender Ben Scrivens was explaining his mindset and the way he prepares for games now that he’s playing regularly in place of the injured Jonathan Quick.
This being the Big Apple and the ever-quotable Scrivens, having played his college hockey in upstate New York, invoked a famous Yankees ballplayer of the past.
“What’s that famous Yogi Berra quote, that 90 per cent of the game is mental?” Scrivens asked Sunday, after recording another victory on behalf of the Kings.
Told he got the quote mostly right – it’s “90 per cent of the game half-mental” – and he was Yogi Berra-ing a Yogi Berra quote, Scrivens laughed.
“I’ll let you guys fact-check that one for me,” he said. “Whatever it is, just say I said it.”
The 27-year-old goalie is the newest sensation, named NHL first star of the week Monday – thanks to a shutout streak that stood at 155 minutes 2 seconds heading into Tuesday’s game at home against the Tampa Bay Lightning – playing in place of Quick, who is out four to six weeks with a second-degree groin strain.
For a lot of NHL teams, losing a starter of Quick’s pedigree – the Conn Smythe Trophy winner as the 2012 Stanley Cup playoff MVP and favoured to start for the United States in the 2014 Winter Olympics – would be an unmitigated disaster. But Scrivens has ridden to the rescue, registering shutout victories in three of his first five starts with the Kings and helping them complete a unique trifecta: winning games against all three New York-area teams on a successful road trip that concluded on Sunday.
Prior to Tuesday’s games, Scrivens led the NHL with a 1.24 goals-against average and .955 save percentage in eight appearances. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, he is the first goaltender in Kings history to post consecutive road shutouts in one season.
He is also the second-most famous goaltender ever to come out of Cornell University (after Ken Dryden and presumably ahead of Doug Dadswell), joining the Kings from the Toronto Maple Leafs in the Jonathan Bernier trade in the off-season.
Scrivens is known to his teammates as “the Professor” because he is something of a well-spoken intellectual, which doesn’t always play well in an NHL dressing room. And while his style is slightly unorthodox – L.A. blueliner Drew Doughty says Scrivens is the complete opposite of Quick, stylistically – the bottom line is he’s stopping the puck, which is the prime directive in his position.
“I don’t even know how to explain it – two different worlds really,” said Doughty, who noted Scrivens plays more of a reaction style compared with Quick, who reads the play, is square to the shooter and goes post-to-post about as well as any goalie in the league. “They’re completely different goalies, but we have the same confidence in them both.”
Head coach Darryl Sutter says he had not seen Scrivens play before he arrived in training camp and left it mostly to goalie coach Bill Ranford to teach him the Kings style of play.
Scrivens – who made 32 appearances with the Leafs, going 11-14-2 from 2011-13 – calls that part of the adjustment a work in progress. But he is gradually becoming more comfortable playing behind a defence that includes Doughty, Slava Voynov, Willie Mitchell and Robyn Regehr. Sutter noted the Western Conference is so deep this year it could take 100 points to make the playoffs and as a result, they need to get wins from their backup goaltender when he is called on. So far, mission accomplished.
“Everyone wants to be the go-to-guy, but there are only 30 of those jobs and 60 jobs total in the league and a lot of guys want them,” Scrivens said. “You just have to make the most of every single opportunity.
“I try to approach every game the same way, try not to reinvent the wheel, try to play each shot honestly and at the end, hope the outcome goes your way.”
In the meantime, he is gaining familiarity with his new teammates, as they are with him.
“I thought about that today,” centre Jarret Stoll said. “We’ve had Quickie and Bernier for so long, you’re just used to seeing them in the net. For me, say before a faceoff, I always look back at the goalies and you just see the same guys. Now, I look back and see Bennie, but he’s just finding ways to win games for us.
“He makes the big saves when we need him to. He covers the puck when we need him too. He’s been great. With Quickie out, he needs to play well. Whoever’s in there needs to play well. But yeah, it’s a little different, seeing a different mask out there.”
As for the move to Los Angeles, Scrivens says, it’s gone well.
“Having a new goalie coach, he’s trying to smooth out parts of my game. You definitely work hard with that and take as much as you can from it. Hopefully, this organization is happy with what I’m bringing so far. It’s a process, not a final destination. You’re always trying to learn and get better and develop,” said the Spruce Grove, Alta., native, who went undrafted out of the AJHL and signed with the Leafs after his four years at Cornell.
“This is a great opportunity down here in L.A. I had a great experience in Toronto. I was extremely fortunate that they gave me an opportunity to cut my teeth and give me a rookie year. Obviously, it’s nice being here in L.A., on a great team, in a good organization. Fortunately, I’m getting a chance to play a little bit.”
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