Maple Leafs @ Kings Recap: New Faces, Familiar Place
LA returns to the win column and holds on to their double-digit division lead, even while starting two guys who flew cross-country that day.
One guy hadn't played a full game in two weeks. One guy hadn't played a game in a Los Angeles Kings uniform, ever. And one guy hadn't played a game in a Kings uniform, ever, and hadn't played a full game in TWO MONTHS. This is the Kings we're talking about, though, and they could thrive in spite of having all these guys in the lineup on the same night. The fun part of this game was that there was no "in spite" to be seen, though; all three contributed.
Before we get to how those three helped take down the Toronto Maple Leafs, let's start with an acknowlegement of some events that threatened to steal all the attention from Jeff Carter, Luke Schenn and Vincent Lecavalier. In short, a lot of people could've gotten hurt.
- Roman Polak, never known as a clean player despite a clean suspension history, was ejected late in the first period for boarding Tyler Toffoli. Polak's five-and-a-game seemed like the right move because, while Toffoli turned towards the boards quickly before Polak hit him, Polak didn't let up at all and continued to push Toffoli. Polak will probably avoid suspension because Toffoli returned for the second period after heading straight to the locker room, and because his ejection was probably punishment enough. I'm ok with that.
- Worse was what Leo Komarov (NHL All-Star!) did late in the second period. With the Kings on a four-on-four (an ordinary dumb boarding penalty by Schenn offset by a Brad Boyes high-stick), Drew Doughty held off Komarov as he tight-roped the blue line with the puck. Komarov was already holding on for dear life, but with a 4-on-4 you don't expect that to be a penalty. This, however, you would expect to be a penalty.
what made drew doughty mad pic.twitter.com/VCDKAwEKgk— Stephanie (@myregularface) January 8, 2016
- A bizarre, scary play shortly after Polak's ejection: referee Kelly Sutherland took the most accidental headshot in the history of hockey from Jake Muzzin.
Sutherland also returned after intermission, no worse for wear.
As a result of all these events (OK, maybe not the Sutherland one), the game was rather chippy throughout. That finally came into play in the third period, because for the two periods before that, James Reimer and Jonathan Quick traded zeroes. Reimer, in particular, was either outstanding or just barely hanging on; in his words, he wasn't sharp, but he nonetheless turned aside 27 shots through 40 minutes. Marian Gaborik and Jake Muzzin had the best scoring chances of any of the Kings, and they made their sparks count in the third.
2:53 into the third, the fourth line of Vincent Lecavalier, Michael Mersch, and Jordan Nolan was (as expected) at the bottom of the team's possession numbers. They made one big play, though, and it got the Kings on the board. Michael Mersch went down low and worked the puck to Lecavalier, who as the Kings broadcast REPEATEDLY reminded us, is big.
Interesting intangibles pic.twitter.com/hFccvqTKTS— Sheng Peng (@Sheng_Peng) January 8, 2016
Lecavalier won the board battle against Mark Arcobello and moved the puck along to Muzzin, who for the third time drifted towards the goal with the puck and plenty of room to work with. This time, Mersch's screen put off Reimer a bit, and Muzzin hit the net. Did he ever.
A quick challenge confirmed that Mersch didn't interfere with Reimer, and the Kings were off and running. Carter returned to the scoresheet about five minutes later on a nifty feed from Gaborik which left Reimer zero chance. The chippiness mattered on that one because Dion Phaneuf went for a big hit on Tanner Pearson, leaving poor Martin Marincin looking like he was wearing socks on a freshly waxed floor.
Peter Holland scored on a power play two minutes later after Trevor Lewis slashed Phaneuf, meaning that in traditional fashion, Quick had his toughest duties at the end of the game. The headliner was this superb glove save on Brad Boyes...
... but finishing the job required three minutes of 5-on-6 play and a number of additional saves by Quick. New arrival Schenn helped out by clearing the crease twice at game's end, once with Holland starting at an open net, ensuring that he had something to be pleased about. The Kings, for their part, will be very pleased; they deserved a win based on the strength of their first 50 minutes, and they rotated in new arrivals pretty nicely. Lecavalier played a shade under ten minutes and Schenn a shade under sixteen minutes, which sounds about ideal for each. Depth is nice.