For some reason, Los Angeles is not an easy place to be a goalie.
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Just ask Dan Cloutier. Or Jason Labarbera. Jean-Sebastien Aubin and Mathieu Garon would agree. A Roman Cechmanek sighting, anyone?
You can understand why Kings fans are quick to anoint incoming goalies as the next one. Yutaka Fukufuji's time lasted, well, about a half-hour.
That mix of hopefulness and a fatalist approach might lead to the franchise's latest goaltending hope -- Erik Ersberg.
If you haven't heard of Ersberg, you aren't alone. Following two seasons in the Swedish Elite League, Ersberg started the year with the Kings' AHL affiliate in Manchester, N.H. He posted a pedestrian 2.92 goals against average and an .897 save percentage in 30 appearances with a mediocre Monarchs squad.
So you can see why what happened next was unexpected.
Sure, it has only been four games, but Ersberg has posted a 1.68 goals against and .952 save percentage since being called up to Los Angeles because of an injury to Jason LaBarbera. His most recent performance was an impressive 2-0 shutout against Ottawa Thursday night at Staples Center.
And it was not a routine shutout. Facing the high-powered Senators, Ersberg faced 40 shots en route to his first NHL win.
In the process, Ersberg has shown the tools necessary to be an NHL goalie. H stands just 5'11", but his quickness renders that point largely moot. His rebound control has been remarkable -- Kings' captain Rob Blake referred to him as a sponge, while others have referred to him as velcro.
His lateral movement has been excellent, while he has shown a great amount of confidence between the pipes. Ersberg's smallish stature leads him to play deeper in the net than many larger goalies, but it has proven to be anything but a problem so far.
Sure, there's a chance Ersberg will be the latest goalie to disappear from Los Angeles as quickly as he arrived. Yet something feels different with Ersberg. Technically, he is solid in almost every way. He is confident. And despite being a newcomer to North America, he is experienced from high-level competition in Sweden.
Saturday afteroon, the Montreal Canadiens return to Staples Center for the first time in years. Ersberg turns 26 that day, and will likely start against one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference.
In a strange sort of season, Ersberg gives Kings fans yet another reason for hope. While the defense has been porous at times and the goaltending has been average, the young forwards continue to progress. Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Patrick O'Sullivan, Alexander Frolov, and Michael Cammalleri give the Kings a group of young forwards envied by most NHL teams.
Jonathan Bernier has been hailed as the future superstar between the pipes, but some feel he is still a year or two away. If Ersberg can even bridge the gap, the Kings go into next season with a lot of promise.
We've heard it before, no question. The next Kings goalie has arrived.
Los Angeles hopes this time, that really is the case.
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