After back-to-back losses, the Maple Leafs are looking to get their road trip back on track as they continue their trek through California with their annual stop in Los Angeles (7 p.m. EST, Sportsnet).
While the Leafs fought back to force overtime in San Jose on Thursday, it was the continuation of a troubling trend that put them in a hole to begin with. As mentioned in Thursday night’s game in 10, the Leafs have now surrendered the first goal in six of eight games, which had Auston Matthews lamenting the team’s lack of 60-minute efforts after Thursday’s loss.
The Leafs have puttered out to a 4-3-1 start to the year, which is by no means season-destroying, but a 92-point pace at the 10% pole is below the expectation level and well behind the pace-setting Boston Bruins’ 8-1 start.
Tonight’s matchup against the Kings pits two teams against one another that both lost out in the first round in seven games last spring and are now off to disappointing starts to their 2022-23 regular seasons. The 4-5-0 Kings have lost three of their past four games, allowing 4.5 goals per game over that stretch.
The opposite of Toronto, the Kings are scoring plenty and their struggles can largely be attributed to their goaltending. Despite solid underlying numbers as a team, the Kings have received just a .862 save percentage from the duo of Jonathan Quick (.872) and Cal Peterson (.842) so far this year. That is second-to-last in the NHL so far ahead of only Seattle.
That subpar goaltending will face off against a Leafs team that is in the bottom 10 in shooting percentage (8.8%) so far. Call it a case of, “a moveable object meets a resistible force” — two unsustainable lows, and one has to give.
The Leafs are certainly hoping their top line is on its way out of its shooting percentage funk after Matthews and Marner each notched a goal on Thursday in San Jose.
As tough as it has been to remain patient, David Kämpf is not going to lead this Leafs team in 5v5 goals this season as he is currently. We’re eight games into 2022-23 with the Leafs scoring at 1.95 5v5 goals per game (28th in the NHL); they’ve scored 2.92 goals per game at 5v5 (fourth-best in the NHL) over the previous three seasons combined with this core of players. It’s much more likely they’ll land closer to the latter figure than the former as the season progresses.
However, Sheldon Keefe is not content to just sit back and wait for the percentages to turn in the team’s favour. He continues to tinker with the lineup, particularly his bottom six. After a brief stint on the third line, Michael Bunting has been moved back to Matthews’ wing. Taking his place in that spot will be Nick Robertson, who was swapped out for Alex Kerfoot on the second line. Robertson will join a line with Calle Järnkrok and Wayne Simmonds, and the fourth line will feature Pierre Engvall, David Kämpf, and Nicolas Aubé-Kubel.
While the third line is a totally new mix of players, the other three lines are a return to the familiar — Bunting spent nearly all of last season enjoying offensive success on the top line, Kerfoot has flanked Nylander and Tavares plenty over recent years, and the Kämpf-Engvall combination has been a reliable one down the lineup for Keefe since last season.
Keefe is also making a change on the back end as Filip Král will draw into his first NHL game on a pairing with veteran Mark Giordano while Victor Mete will get the night off.
In the spirit of trying to flip the mojo in their favour, the Leafs will also be donning their Justin Bieber flip-side jerseys as they look to change the tune of the start of their season down in LA.
Game Day Quotes
Sheldon Keefe on the challenge presented by the LA Kings:
Lots of speed, structure, and skill. They are a team that has a good mix of young players that bring a lot of pace and skill and then some older guys that are very responsible, play hard, and fill into their roles well.
They have had some strange results, but they have carried play a lot. We were watching their most recent game there, and I think with five minutes left in the first period, shot attempts were 31-2 for LA at that time. They were winning 3-1.
They have the capability to really get on you, pressure the puck, and make it hard for you to get out of your zone. Everything is coming to the net. There are some real challenges there for us to find our way through.
Keefe on Auston Matthews playing at the top of the umbrella on the power play:
We have put him in that spot at different times. We move him around within a certain power play as we get moving. He falls into that spot. We have a few different sets for him to move around into different places. It obviously paid off for us.
Keefe on his expectations for the second line tonight:
I’d just like to see them get back to moving their feet and skating. I think they got stalled a lot the other night, whether it is coming out of our zone or through the neutral zone. As the game got on, they got moving a little bit better. In talking to them, they were both well aware and acknowledged — without me having to say too much — that it wasn’t a good night for them.
I am expecting a response from them in terms of the speed and energy. They have been good throughout the season for us, so I am expecting them to bounce back. With Kerfoot and his pace and what he brings on both sides of the puck, I think he’ll help that group, too.
Auston Matthews on whether there is extra motivation for the team at large when a player like Nick Robertson plays his first NHL game in his hometown:
I think so. You want to always give a great effort, but for example, going to play the Islanders for the first time when Johnny signed here, you want to back up your guys and leave the rink feeling proud.
Matthews on the mood of the room after a middling start to the season results-wise:
The room is good. I thought we had a good practice yesterday — high energy. Regardless of how things are going for you as a team or if you’re going through a little bit of a dip, the energy and the fun aspect of it can’t go away. You have to come to the rink every day, put in the work, have fun, clean up the things you want to clean up, and go out there and execute.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#58 Michael Bunting – #34 Auston Matthews – #16 Mitch Marner
#15 Alex Kerfoot – #91 John Tavares – #88 William Nylander
#89 Nick Robertson – #19 Calle Järnkrok – #24 Wayne Simmonds
#47 Pierre Engvall – #64 David Kämpf – #96 Nicolas Aubé-Kubel
#44 Morgan Rielly – #78 TJ Brodie
#38 Rasmus Sandin – #3 Justin Holl
#55 Mark Giordano – #82 Filip Král
Starter: #35 Ilya Samsonov
#50 Erik Källgren
Injured: Kyle Clifford, Jake Muzzin, Matt Murray, Timothy Liljegren, Jordie Benn
Extras: Denis Malgin, Zach Aston-Reese, Victor Mete
Los Angeles Kings Projected Lines
#9 Adrian Kempe – #11 Anze Kopitar – #13 Gabriel Vilardi
#12 Trevor Moore – #24 Phillip Danault – #33 Viktor Arvidsson
#22 Kevin Fiala – #46 Blake Lizotte – #91 Carl Grundstrom
#48 Brendan Lemieux – #28 Jaret Anderson-Dolan – #34 Arthur Kaliyev
#44 Mikey Anderson – #8 Drew Doughty
#50 Sean Durzi – #3 Matt Roy
#2 Alexander Edler – #92 Brandt Clarke
Starter: #40 Cal Petersen
#32 Jonathan Quick
Injured/Out: Quinton Byfield, Alex Iafallo