The Maple Leafs will kick off their California road trip by looking to avenge their November 8th 5-1 loss to the LA Kings tonight at the Staples Center (10 p.m. EST, Sportsnet Ontario).
Given we’re all too tired to write or read much, here is your abbreviated late-night game preview:
- Jake Muzzin will play in LA as a Maple Leaf for the first time since the trade to Toronto in January of 2019 — two-and-a-half years later. He missed out on the March 2020 meeting at the Staples Center due to injury. Fittingly, defenseman Sean Durzi, acquired by LA from the Leafs in the Muzzin trade just six months after he was drafted by Toronto in the second round of the 2018 draft, is expected to make his NHL debut on the Kings’ blue line. It’s a money-on-the-board game for Muzzin as well as Jack Campbell, who returns for his first start in LA as a Leaf.
- Andreas Athanasiou, who was a major thorn in the Leafs‘ side in the first meeting against the Kings (a 5-1 LA win), is in Covid protocol and won’t play tonight. Drew Doughty and Quinton Byfield remain sidelined due to injury, while Viktor Arvidsson has returned in the past few games and is skating on the top line with Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown.
- Philip Danault‘s line with Athanasiou and Alex Iafallo scored three goals against the Leafs and carried over 65% of the shot attempts in the Kings’ 5-1 win in Toronto; tonight, Adrian Kempe will join Danault and Iafallo in Athanasiou’s absence. Keefe has repeatedly mentioned the Leafs‘ troubles defending speed in transition against the likes of the Kings and Penguins (x2) this season; they’ve been nuisance opposition for the Leafs as capable counterpunchers with the skill and speed to expose a defense if the Leafs lose their numbers up the ice. A structured, patient game from the Leafs has been their winning formula of late, and more of the same will be needed tonight.
- Tonight’s starter in the LA net, Jonathan Quick, is turning back the clock with a .939 save percentage through 10 starts this season. He stopped 33 of 34 in Toronto as the Leafs didn’t challenge him enough with second/third opportunities from the high-danger areas early in the game. For all of their impressive success of late, at 5v5, the Leafs are still looking to crack the puzzle of under-producing relative to their underlying offensive metrics. Yesterday, Sheldon Keefe identified a need for, “more urgency attacking the net,” during the Leafs’ league-leading offensive-zone possession time.
Game Day Quotes
Kings head coach Todd McLellan on lessons from their first win over Toronto:
The simple answer for replication is the result, but there is a lot more that goes into that. Our start in Toronto was the type of start we needed. Of course, they are going to address that, so we better be extra prepared.
Every team in the league, when they play the Leafs, talks about what they do well and how dynamic they are. We are at a spot right now where we have to talk a little bit more about ourselves and our game. Not that it has been real bad, but we have to find a way to finish off good games. We have played well, but we haven’t won. That is not good enough in this league.
McLellan on the Leafs’ struggles to score at five on five:
I watch the Leafs play, and they may be struggling to score, but they are not struggling to get chances. There is a huge difference. With us, if there was nothing going on in a game for 60 minutes, you would be kind of worried. We have had great scoring chances.
We still expect our team to check and play responsibly all over. If we weren’t getting those chances, I would be concerned, but I think if the chances are there, for the natural finishers, it will come out eventually. I am hoping that happens for Toronto three nights from now.
McLellan on the success of Philip Danault in the Matthews/Marner matchup:
The unique thing about that matchup is that it has happened away from us. Phil carries confidence if he has it, and he should have some of it. The rest of us don’t quite understand what happened; we just witnessed it. Phil carries that confidence. The rest of us have to play around him.
We had a good night in Toronto. As the game went on, they made it harder on us. We can expect that hardness from them for 60 minutes. Phil will have a job to do. Kopitar will. All the centers will.
Quite frankly, Phil’s job isn’t going to be any harder than Kopi’s or any other center. They all match up well. They are all going to be challenged.
Sheldon Keefe on whether he needs to rein in Ondrej Kase knowing how hard he plays and associated the injury risk:
It makes him, him. I don’t think you want to be toning guys down. For a guy who has had injury issues he has dealt with, he doesn’t let it change his game. It speaks a lot to the type of player that he is and why he has fit in so well here.
… He is a very low-maintenance player. Whatever we have asked him to do, he has done. He basically hadn’t penalty killed at all in his career up until this season. I talked to him about getting him some reps through preseason and early in camp to see if he could add to his role. He has taken that on.
He is a guy who has played on the power play throughout his career. We gave him some time there, but we opted to give Engvall some time to run with that. He hasn’t questioned it or let it affect anything. Whatever we have asked him to do, he has embraced it. You can’t have enough of those guys.
Keefe on whether now is the time to give William Nylander a push after one point in his last five:
A little bit. Not so much a push, but we need to talk to him and reinforce the things that he was doing well and what he does best. I chatted with him today. I reminded him of the things that he needs to do and wanted to see what he needs from me to help him get back to that.
He is a player that has had these swings in the past where he is really strong and there are times where it dips. Most players go through that. It is just a matter of him getting back to moving his feet, staying engaged, and things will happen.
Keefe on Wayne Simmonds’ skating and skill improvements:
When you look at the number and type of scoring chances he has generated, I think he is protecting the puck really well. Just with his hands in general, to be able to get out of tight spaces and into the middle of the ice, I see some real transfer from what he has worked on in the summer and what we continually get him to rep out.
He is in a lot of the early sessions we have before practices. We are getting him involved in those consistently. I know when we talked about it last season, a lot of the stuff was new to him. It has taken him a while to get comfortable with it.
Through the offseason and now again this season, while his role is reduced, we have added more reps to practices before and after for him. I have seen a lot of transfer. The results haven’t come in terms of the puck going in for him, but we believe that, if he can continue to get to those spots and generate those chances, it is going to fall.
His role has reduced this season, but his chance generation has actually increased greatly. That is a real nice development.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#58 Michael Bunting – #34 Auston Matthews – #16 Mitch Marner
#15 Alex Kerfoot – #91 John Tavares – #88 William Nylander
#20 Nick Ritchie – #64 David Kampf – #25 Ondrej Kase
#47 Pierre Engvall – #19 Jason Spezza – #24 Wayne Simmonds
#44 Morgan Rielly – #78 TJ Brodie
#8 Jake Muzzin – #3 Justin Holl
#38 Rasmus Sandin – #37 Timothy Liljegren
Starter: #36 Jack Campbell
#60 Joseph Woll
Extras: Travis Dermott, Joey Anderson, Kirill Semyonov
Injured: Ilya Mikheyev, Petr Mrazek
Los Angeles Kings Projected Lines
#33 Viktor Arvidsson – #11 Anze Kopitar – #23 Dustin Brown
#9 Adrian Kempe – #24 Phillip Danault – #19 Alex Iaffallo
#24 Lias Andersson – #89 Rasmus Kupari – #12 Trevor Moore
#48 Brendan Lemieux – #46 Blake Lizotte – #34 Arthur Kaliyev
#2 Alexander Edler – #3 Matt Roy
#33 Tobias Bjornfot – #44 Mikey Anderson
#6 Olli Maatta – #50 Sean Durzi
Starter: #32 Jonathan Quick
#40 Cal Petersen
Injured/Out: Andreas Athanasiou, Quinton Byfield, Drew Doughty, Sean Walker