The Toronto Maple Leafs will look to rebound tonight after suffering their first road loss of the season in Boston as they begin their annual California road trip against the struggling — and now Willie Desjardins-coached — Los Angeles Kings (10:30 p.m., Sportsnet Ontario).
Needless to say, the Kings are in flux at the moment. They let go of head coach John Stevens just eight days ago, replacing him with recent former Canucks head coach Willie Desjardins. L.A played the day after the hiring and haven’t had more than one day off in a row until these last couple of days, so we should see a more prepared group after they’ve had the opportunity to fit in two full practices with the new bench boss.
The Kings began the year by getting pelted with shots and chances en route to the 4-8-1 start that preceded Stevens’ dismissal. Despite worse than average possession numbers — they’ve only managed over 50% CF in one of their last five, and only have one goal in their last two games — they’ve managed over 50% in expected goals in all of those five games, suggesting they’ve been able to limit shot quality to some degree of late. The issue for the Kings — as it has been for some time now — is that while stingy defensively, they struggle to create enough high-quality scoring chances at the other end.
Once a team that could pile up wins dominating games territorially with a heavy cycle game, the Kings’ aging core, as well as their general style of play and the way they go about generating offense, is lagging behind the times in a league that has only gotten faster since the Kings’ Cup-winning days. Since the 2013-14 championship, the Kings have missed the postseason twice and have won a total of one playoff game in their two playoff series.
The other significant issue for the Kings is that they have again been subjected to a goalie injury outbreak early in the year. Both starter Jonathan Quick and backup Jack Campbell are out, leaving Peter Budaj and emergency call-up Cal Petersen left in net. Budaj is the starter tonight, having only played half of one game back on October 13th and just 13 professional games total since the end of the 2016-17 season.
After the first period on Saturday, the Leafs looked like they were going to pull off a quality road game in a back-to-back situation, even despite being down 1-0 (they held a 20-6 shots advantage at one point). But the Bruins pushed back in the second, adding to their lead while limiting the Leafs to very few chances of significance. The third period was more balanced, but ultimately, it’s hard for a team playing two games in 24 hours to bounce back from 3-1 in the final 20 minutes. Overall, it wasn’t a loss to fret over, but the Leafs will need to bounce back here tonight.
Toronto has called up Trevor Moore for the second time this year as an extra for their road trip, but he won’t play tonight and there won’t be any changes to the forward group. We can say the same for the back end other than Igor Ozhiganov presumably stepping back in for Martin Marincin after he was given the night off versus Boston.
Game Day Quotes
Mike Babcock on the last game and what he sees the Kings bringing tonight:
The game’s like that. You’ve got stay with it. Some nights it goes, some nights it doesn’t — I thought we did a good job in the first but couldn’t get through in the second period, and in the end, that cost us. Bottom line is we’re going to play a real stingy, defensive team here tonight. In the pre-scout, they haven’t given up much here in the last bit, so we know what we’re in for.
Babcock on whether he considered inserting callup and healthy scratch Trevor Moore — who grew up in Thousand Oaks, California — into the lineup:
We thought about that process, but that’s not what it’s about. What it’s about here is giving our guys a good opportunity. We don’t have any extra forwards, so you’re getting a chance to play every night and in the end, if it doesn’t work, we’ve got guys coming back. We’ll be able to make good decisions based on what we have.
Kings head coach Willie Desjardins on his core players’ past success and his view of today’s NHL:
I’m really familiar with [our] older players because I’ve coached against them and I know how hard they are to play against. That was a team, when they turned it up, that was so hard to stop. I think in a lot of ways, they probably lived off that because they were just that good. Now the league’s getting a lot better. The teams are more even and I think it’s more of a challenge every night.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#11 Zach Hyman – #91 John Tavares – #16 Mitch Marner
#21 Patrick Marleau – #43 Nazem Kadri – #24 Kasperi Kapanen
#18 Andreas Johnsson – #26 Par Lindholm – #28 Connor Brown
#63 Tyler Ennis – #33 Frederik Gauthier – #32 Josh Leivo
#44 Morgan Rielly – #2 Ron Hainsey
#51 Jake Gardiner – #22 Nikita Zaitsev
#23 Travis Dermott – #92 Igor Ozhiganov
#31 Frederik Andersen
#40 Garret Sparks
Scratched: Justin Holl, Martin Marincin, Trevor Moore
Unsigned: William Nylander
Injured: Auston Matthews (shoulder)
Los Angeles Kings Projected Lines
#19 Alex Iafallo – #91 Anze Kopitar – #23 Dustin Brown
#17 Ilya Kovalchuk – #77 Jeff Carter – #73 Tyler Toffoli
#70 Tanner Pearson – #10 Mike Amadio – #22 Trevor Lewis
#13 Kyle Clifford – #44 Nate Thompson – #9 Adrian Kempe
#24 Derek Forbort – #8 Drew Doughty
#6 Jake Muzzin – #27 Alec Martinez
#3 Dion Phaneuf – #7 Oscar Fantenberg
#31 Peter Budaj
#40 Cal Petersen
Scratched: Jonathan Quick, Jack Campbell, Jonny Brodzinski