Okay, hear me out.
I expected this game to be a blowout. Yeah, the Maple Leafs have struggled a bit this season, not getting off to the dominating start that everyone expected from them. But still, Toronto plays fast and dangerous and boasts some of the top scorers in the game. Their defense and goaltending can be suspect at times, but they’re still the kind of team you want to measure yourself against.
And so I expected the Kings to measure themselves against the Leafs and find themselves severely lacking.
Instead, both teams played a tight game for about, oh, 50 minutes.
The first period saw few whistles as the teams traded a handful of chances — just seven shots on goal for each team — but both goalies stood tall, even with limited work.
Alex Iafallo got scoring started in the second period with his third tally of the season, and believe it or not, it was a power play goal. Anze Kopitar sent a shot wide of the net, banking it off the boards. Leafs goaltender Frederik Andersen moved to stop the Kopitar shot, which would never even get near him, and couldn’t scramble to the other side of the crease in time to prevent Iafallo’s goal. On a power play which has struggled to make opponents move in any significant fashion, being able to scramble the Leafs players on that one showed just how important puck movement can be to scoring with the man advantage.
Alex Kerfoot, who was earlier the recipient of a big hit from Jeff Carter, evened the game up for the Leafs in the second period. In a play that was mostly a comedy of errors, Kyle Clifford and Trevor Lewis get tangled up with one another, Sean Walker turns over the puck, and no one can find the exact right positioning to stop Kerfoot from advancing to the net.
As the third period advanced and the game was tied at one each, maybe you found yourself thinking, “Okay, they might actually get this one to overtime.” (Fans of actual good teams probably find themselves thinking, “Okay, they’re going to score one here for the win.” I don’t know what that feeling is like anymore.)
The Kings were actually dominating the third period in terms of possession, finishing the frame with a 60.87% Corsi-For rating (measuring all shot attempts, including misses and blocked shots). They actually looked decent against a team expected to be a playoff team and Cup contender. A little thing like hope started to bloom.
And then 30 seconds of game time undid all of it.
At 12:36 into the period, after Jonathan Quick made several strong saves in a row, the Leafs got off a flurry of shots, the puck ricocheted around in the crease, bouncing off of bodies, and came out to Auston Matthews, who was able to corral it and shoot. The Kings have had difficulty in cleaning up their game in front of their own net, and this goal was just another example of those woes.
As Kings broadcaster Jim Fox was saying that he wondered how the Kings would respond to being scored on — with around seven minutes left in regulation, there was still plenty of time to fight back to re-tie the game — Matthews and William Nylander came into the zone on a two-on-one and the rest is history.
The play started with a Ben Hutton turnover at the blue line, leaving Sean Walker alone in the defensive zone. Walker didn’t seem to know quite how to play their advance or which player to cover, resulting in some slow decision making from him as Matthews and Nylander bore down on the Kings net.
The Kings pulled Quick but despite mostly maintaining possession — except for a Nick Shore attempt at an empty net goal which got scooped away before it got to the goal line — they couldn’t get anything going.
In terms of a game to be used as a measuring stick, this game at least showed that the Kings could hang with the Leafs for most of the time, limiting the Leafs chances and protecting their own goalie from facing too much traffic. Simple errors and miscommunications doomed the Kings on this one, but it was far from the blowout that could have been.
The Kings are next in action on Thursday as they take on the Ottawa Senators.