I have never been so thrilled to see a defensive struggle.
After allowing 49 goals in their prior 14 games (including 15 in the last three losses), it was a huge relief to see the Los Angeles Kings pitch a shutout. Of course, they haven't necessarily been giving up a ton of shots in their up and down season, but due to a combination of defensive lapses and goaltending issues, they haven't been able to keep pucks out of the net. Tonight, Martin Jones earned a shutout, and the defensemen can certainly share credit.
Now, before you say "it was just the Toronto Maple Leafs": Toronto actually played reasonably well! We're used to seeing LA get the vast majority of the shots against this team, but the Maple Leafs showed some defensive discipline, and through the counter-attack they notched some decent scoring chances given that they were the road team. Not many, though. Toronto mustered just 19 shots, while LA got 20 of their own. One reason to give LA the edge despite the near-equal shot counts: Toronto spent the entire game playing from behind.
That's not an exaggeration, either, as Darryl Sutter's decision to put his three most dynamic players on the top line paid immediate dividends. With Jeff Carter and Marian Gaborik helping to establish early zone time, Anze Kopitar found the net 37 seconds into the game. Though technically, that's not accurate, as his shot never touched the net. After Drew Doughty's setup, Kopitar fired off the crossbar, off the in-net camera, and back out. It happened so quickly that the refs waved it off, and only after another 56 seconds of play would the refs go back and look. Kopitar already knew it was in and was very satisfied with the review...
That goal kicked off a terrific first period. LA outshot Toronto 7-3 and outchanced them 5-1, with the lone Maple Leafs opportunity (off the stick of Phil Kessel) turned aside by Martin Jones.
Jones saved his best for the second period, making a lunging glove save on Nazem Kadri that he almost definitely learned from watching Quick. The only time things really felt hairy for LA was during the final ten minutes of that period; before, after, and during Matt Greene's second penalty of the period, the Maple Leafs tilted the ice in the other direction. First star Drew Doughty was a big factor in keeping the Leafs off the board, but credit is due to Alec Martinez and Brayden McNabb, who each played 22 confident minutes and were factors on the penalty kill.
The third period got off to an inauspicious start as Kopitar took a Dion Phaneuf shot to the lower jaw in the second; after 30 terrifying seconds, he skated off with assistance and was back on the ice two minutes later. (I can assure you that I was able to freak out for the entire two minutes, despite the lack of blood or visible damage.) After that? LA was in full control, and the top line was able to put together a tic-tac-toe empty netter to seal the deal. Jonathan Bernier was good, but Martin Jones deserved his shutout win, the seventh of his career. The Kings finally have gotten their homestand on the right track, and with the Devils in town on Wednesday, I feel much more optimistic about the Kings' defense stepping up again.