The Los Angeles Kings have had their problems lately, but getting shots on net has not been one of them. Halfway through today's game, simply getting shots was not working. The solution? Get closer. It was working well until the Toronto Maple Leafs stole that strategy for themselves and triumphed in the shootout.
Coming off of a 48-shot, two-goal effort against the Montreal Canadiens, and facing a team less than 24 hours removed from their last game, it looked like LA would have the upper hand going in. However, the Maple Leafs have been surprisingly hot (8-1-1 in their previous ten), and Toronto scored first after fourteen minutes. Both teams had gotten tremendous chances, including a puck that got behind Jonathan Quick but not the goal line. Mike Santorelli's goal, in contrast, came off a fairly innocent play. Anze Kopitar bumped into Matt Greene while pursuing Santorelli, and with that extra space, Santorelli wheeled around and roofed one past Quick.
Cody Franson scored his fifth goal of the season from the blueline in the period's final minute, and with Trevor Lewis hitting the goalpost on LA's best opportunity of the first, LA went into the intermission down 2-0. Once again, we were all set for the Kings to play from behind, and not surprisingly, they got the bulk of the shots in the second. However, James Reimer wasn't having a lot of trouble with shots that came from the perimeter or from unscreened locations. Justin Williams, who's been the most consistent point producer as of late, capitalized on a lob pass by Kyle Clifford which was knocked down at his feet. Williams simply kept the puck moving forward and managed to chip it past Reimer from close range.
Going to the net had finally broken the ice for LA, so they did it to close the second and open the third as well. Dwight King stopped Franson from clearing his own zone, drove in from the corner, and managed to stuff the puck past Reimer with under 20 seconds remaining in the second. After that end-of-the-period surge paid off, Marian Gaborik found the back of the net for the first time since his injury, again from close range. Williams made this one happen with a nice move and pass, and Gaborik's second whack at the puck gave LA the lead.
It wouldn't last, though. The normally disciplined Trevor Lewis took a penalty for the second straight game, and LA's penalty kill failed miserably to hold the lead:
It took just eight seconds for James Van Riemsdyk to tap in that pass from Franson, and with all five players touching the puck, the Kings simply couldn't keep up. LA was fortunate to remain tied while killing a later Jake Muzzin penalty, and Quick and Reimer kept the game at 3-3 until the shootout. Joffrey Lupul scored on the first shot, only Dustin Brown came close at the other end, and Anze Kopitar missed the net to give Toronto both points.
The story of the season so far, weirdly, is that there hasn't been a story of the season. The Kings' mediocre record is no longer a symptom of bad puck possession, and it was never about a lack of scoring or poor goaltending. Right now, the Kings are out of the playoff standings because special teams, defense, and forwards are each picking the wrong nights to struggle. Not every team can win twelve straight games by one goal (looking at you, Anaheim!), and there's no fix-all solution to LA's slump. At the start of the month, LA was getting the results, and whatever it takes, they'll have to find a way to get them again going forward.