A lot of Los Angeles Kings fans were dreading the possibility of the LA losing this game the way they've lost a number of games this season: by getting a bunch of shots but being foiled by a goaltender playing out of his mind. Similarly, Toronto Maple Leafs fans were probably hoping they could eke out a win despite losing the shot battle. So it was rather unexpected when LA was outplayed... and won. Darryl Sutter was vindicated for his choice of Martin Jones over Ben Scrivens, as Jones once again was superb and outplayed former King Jonathan Bernier.
It wasn't a bad start for either team, as LA just barely came out ahead in possession after one. It could have been 1-0 either way, but Jones stopped Nikolai Kulemin alone in front and the Kings couldn't take advantage of a couple of their usual cycles. LA ended up taking the lead midway through after scoring on a power play for the second consecutive game. Jeff Carter brought the puck all the way around the net entering the zone and passed up to Mike Richards at the blue line. Richards passed across to Drew Doughty, who buried a wrist shot on the far side past a screened Bernier for his 6th goal of the season and his 200th career point. The screen was provided by none other than Tyler Toffoli, who isn't exactly a big body but was perfectly positioned.
Poor Kulemin got robbed again by Jones with about seven minutes to go in the first, as he got two or three whacks and the pads of Jones (which have been divine) kept the puck out. Jones also needed to be sharp early in the second, when Phil Kessel beat Robyn Regehr but couldn't beat Jones on a breakaway. The teams stayed pretty even up until the middle of the second period, when the Leafs started asserting themselves as they pushed for an equalizer. A scary moment occurred midway through when Frazer McLaren hit Colin Fraser at center ice and Fraser went hard into the boards, with the back of his head hitting the bottom of the boards as he fell. The play didn't seem malicious and McLaren wasn't penalized, but Fraser looked extremely woozy and left the game. Jordan Nolan had the obligatory fight with McLaren three minutes later (after a successful PK), and the teams moved on.
Like I was saying, the Leafs seized control midway through, thanks largely to a couple of penalties by the Kings. Willie Mitchell took down Kulemin for interference, and Drew Doughty slashed Joffrey Lupul on the ensuing power play to create a two-man advantage. With two of their three most reliable penalty killers off the ice, LA couldn't maintain their string of successful PK performances. Phil Kessel had a great look but instead set up Cody Franson for his first goal of the year from a sharp angle, as Jones was surprised by Kessel passing instead of shooting. Weren't you? Toronto continued to control the play and had a chance to take the lead soon after, but Jones kept out Joffrey Lupul on the doorstep. Then Doughty bolted from the box and converted on a 2-on-1 with Jeff Carter, as Nick Nickson and Bob Miller both screamed with joy... but the whistle had already gone because Slava Voynov was fighting Joffrey Lupul behind the play.
Yep, Slava Voynov was fighting. Boy, that was baffling.
The third period featured a Maple Leafs team which clearly believed they could win and a Kings team which clearly was running out of energy. Jones made 12, count 'em, 12 saves in the first ten minutes of the third period, while Bernier only faced two shots at the other end... and stopped one of them. The second one went in. Paul Ranger made an ill-advised pinch and couldn't control the puck, and Voynov made a brilliant pass high off the boards to a streaking Jeff Carter. Carter had Daniel Carcillo with him on a 2-on-1, and for whatever reason, Bernier didn't seem totally convinced that Carter was gonna shoot. With Bernier leaving the five-hole open so he could shift across the crease if needed, Carter made him pay and put the puck right on through.
With ten minutes to go, the Kings had a 2-1 lead, and did a much better job of controlling the puck from that point on. Three great chances came with two minutes left, and the Kings converted the third to ice the game. At one end, Justin Williams made a great power move but was stopped by Bernier. At the other end, James van Riemsdyk deked Regehr, and Kessel beat Voynov to the net but couldn't score on Jones after van Riemsdyk's pass. The Kings then went right back down on a 3-on-2 and Toffoli simply threw the puck in. Mike Richards beat Morgan Rielly and Paul Ranger to the puck and fed it to Toffoli, who went across to an open Kyle Clifford . Clifford beat Bernier short side, and the Kings held from there for their fifth straight win.
So we didn't get the tantalizing Scrivens-Bernier match that we all wanted, but the Kings' third-string goaltender has somehow been better than both in his four NHL starts, and he was again tonight. Bernier? Bernier who?
Meanwhile, the tired Kings get out of this Montreal-Toronto back-to-back with four points and have a couple nights off before taking on the Ottawa Senators. We'll take it.