One of the league’s most scored on teams will face off against the least scoringest tonight at the Air Canada Centre. It’s a testament to the Kings’ (and Jonathan Quick’s) ability to prevent goals that they’re .500 in spite of a 2.12 goals per game average. You’d expect the Kings to pick it up eventually (particularly when Mike Richards returns from injury), but as a point of reference there’s only been one team to finish a season below 2.12 goals per game since the lockout. That was the 2010-11 New Jersey Devils, who averaged a paltry 2.08 GPG.Â With Richards out, the Kings have struggled to find offense beyond Anze Kopitar as the likes of Justin Williams, Dustin Penner, Dustin Brown, Jarret Stoll and Drew Doughty have all greatly underproduced.
After coaching the Kings to their first playoff appearance in eight years in 2009-10, and returning to the post season again last season, the Kings’ front office didn’t wait long to pull the plug on now former head coach Terry Murray and replace him on an interim basis with John Stevens after some struggles out of the gate. This is the third team fresh off a coaching change the Leafs have played in the last week and a half (Washington, Carolina, Los Angeles). It’s certainly become a “what have you done for me lately” league now as coaching changes are employed as a shake up strategy more than anything. The loyalty Burke has to his bench boss and the commitment to building a winner under his guy’s direction is either refreshing or faulty depending on your perspective. Either way it’s strange to think of the marginal difference in the standings between the Leafs and teams like the Kings and Habs, playoff teams as of recent seasons who have both changed faces behind the bench while Burke reportedly considers an extension.
James Reimer will return to the net in hopes of getting his season back on track. It hasn’t been an easy return to the net for Optimus Reim since missing eighteen games to concussion and he will be eager to put in a solid performance at home tonight. After losing six of their last eight, Ron Wilson has gone back to the original plan with his lineup, reuniting Grabovski, Kulemin and MacArthur, moving Connolly between Kessel and Lupul, and bumping Bozak to third line duty alongside Colby Armstrong and Matt Frattin. Jay Rosehill will step onto the fourth line as David Steckel is out with bronchitis.
The LA Kings remain a good defensive team, as they have been the last three seasons. Negating the Leafs‘ speed with a neutral zone trap, while capitalizing on their defensive miscues and penalty killing weakness, will be the name of their game, and there’s no doubt that’s the book out there on the Leafs at the moment. Amid growing concern and a 7-10-2 record in their last 19, it’s up to Wilson’s Leafs to prove they’re not easily solved.