The Kings have lots to play for, if spoiling other teams’ chances counts. This started a few nights ago as they began a team-high (tie) nine straight home games that stretch through March 20. With 58 points coming into Thursday night and sixteen games to go, a perfect record would yield them only 90 points. Their opponent was Toronto, hoping to stay up and over the fourth-place team in their Division for the playoffs but shooting the puck up and over the net too many times as the night wore on.
This spoiler role actually began a week or so ago, because the team played Pittsburgh at home and then New Jersey (also playing for nothing), then Vegas in Nevada. They won those three games. Now it was Toronto. The Leafs came in having played one less game and holding on to third in the Atlantic. This mattered a lot because the team did not want to have to go to the wildcard ranks. All of the top four wildcard possibles in the East now come from the Metropolitan Division.
Period one was roughly evenly played, with two penalties called on Toronto, one on the Kings, and shots at 11-5 in LA’s favor. Toronto, in fact, had the best chance of the frame. Kasperi Kapanen stole a puck from Blake Lizotte, who had been put in an awkward position by a pass at his blueline. Kapanen deked down the slot, all alone, and fired it off the crossbar.
As a brief aside, the Kings acknowledged three former players, all traded away to Toronto over the past year, in video as the first break proceeded. Jake Muzzin is not in the lineup at the moment, having broken his hand on February 25. Kyle Clifford was, wearing #73 and playing left wing on the third line with Alexander Kerfoot and Kapanen. Jack Campbell was fully suited up as backup goalie, albeit with a leftover Movember ‘stache and long hair under his baseball cap. Creepy.
So period one came and went, and then something I’ve never seen before: a linesman patrolled outside the corner entrance where the Kings come in for the start of periods at the start of the second. Toronto was in that end, and the Kings make a big show of coming on, with darkness and purple light and menacing music. The Toronto players were circling around after having come onto the ice first. The zebra warded a couple away as the Kings were announced and started to come out of the tunnel.
The action of the period, for ten solid minutes, was in the Kings’ end. No goals resulted, though Quick made some gaffes. He went out for a poke check and ended up on his fanny at the left faceoff dot. The puck skittered off behind the net. Later, with Rasmus Sundin handling the puck, Quick got out of place on the left side of his crease. Again, he avoided trouble.
The shots were 13-13 at the midway point, but the play essentially hadn’t budged from the LA end.
Then they rallied. Twice, they came to the Toronto end. The plays they made were mucky—crowds in front of the net type of transactions, but they nearly worked. And they relieved the pressure on their own goalie for minutes or parts thereof, at least.
But just give the Leafs one mistake, and—you’d better hope that goalie is awake. Quick was, when Tavares broke in to the Kings zone and Denis Malgin slapped one to the net. Then it was William Nylander down the left side. He thought he had an angle and shot far side with Quick sliding side-to-side. Nope. The glove flashed, and play was over.
The Kings were neutralizing an offense which had scored 235 goals coming in to the night, most in the NHL. They themselves had allowed 206.
But they also were taking penalties. The latest, with 3:36 left, was on Doughty, for tripping. The best chance on the PP was a slapper from Auston Matthews straight to the gut of Quick. It looked like the kind that shakes a guy up. Quick froze the puck and popped to his feet. The penalty killers then got stuck in the LA zone for nearly a minute. It looked desperate, but then Kopitar dove and knocked a puck out over the blueline. It didn’t get deep, though, and Toronto turned it back around right away.
Play continued, but three of the PK guys managed to get off the ice, and then the fourth. It was an opportunity missed for Toronto. The period ended with the shots at 19-16 in the Leafs’ favor. That means, math heads, that they had outshot the Kings 14-5 in the second period. Who knows what the fancy stats said, but to my eyes, there was nothing particularly dangerous in all those 19. Perhaps the one exception was a one-timer in the first period. But it was too slowly executed to be dangerous, and Quick got his legs closed up in plenty of time for it to be nullified.
Period three started out all Kings for the first two minutes. Dustin Brown put it out to Gabe Vilardi for a quick shot. Ben Hutton fired from the blueline and Iafallo got a stick on it. But then the Leafs got to work, and it was only Jonathan Quick that kept the score at zeros.
William Nylander broke down the slot and got away two shots, or one and a rebound, as he forced Quick to make two saves. Spread-eagled. Just when you think the guy from New England has no more gymnastics in him.
The Kings then took a penalty—Kempe trying to thwart a breakaway, and Toronto poured it on, but only for the first minute. There was lots of change of direction and crowds to the net, but then when they went to the second team PP, it all ground almost to a halt. Still no scoring. Their coach would comment afterwards that they needed to get their power play going to charge up their offense.
The Leafs sure do have trouble hitting the net. They had a three-on-two after Hutton goofed on a puck at center. Matthews fired it over the net. Then Kapanen took the puck into the Kings’ zone with two guys accompanying. He put it to the net, but Trevor Moore of the Kings got a stick on it and forced it wide and over the net. The Leafs, however, were clearly in control, and the amount of control they showed with the puck was stupefying.
Nylander and another Leaf played with the puck around behind the net. Nylander came to the crease with it, and he stuffed it far side. Quick shot out a leg. Saved again, but not thanks to the LA defense.
The Leafs did it again, Nylander passing to Kapanen coming over the blueline. Do you have to ask where the shot went? Up and wide of the net. There were less than three minutes left and the score was still zeros. The shots stood 29-23, Toronto’s advantage.
Another shot by Mitch Marner went off a leg in front and made a crazy change in direction and speed. Quick got a leg on it as it headed into the net. It was his third or fourth excellent stop of the night, a performance that eventually earned him the first star. But that was minutes away.
Before that, the teams played five minutes of OT, partially with Toronto killing a penalty to Tavares. The Kings have won seven OTs this year, so this was not automatic, despite the skill of the Toronto forwards coming more and more to the forefront as the game went on. The most dangerous chance in an OT when chances were traded was Kempe of the Kings bursting down the ice, deking, and shooting. Andersen made a leg save. Then Nylander got a break and Quick did a spread-eagle save. This was with the leg, body splayed out. The game went to a shootout.
The thrill of those is over. Every player in the four rounds essentially did the same thing. Slow whirl to his left. Come to the net, deke/deke/deke, shoot. Finally in the top of the fourth round, the Kings got a goal by Kempe. The Leafs in the person of Marner failed to match. Game over, 1-0, but each goalie, as you probably now, gets a shutout in such a contest.
Nothing of particular relevance was said after the game by either Frederik Andersen, who was the only player who touched the ice that was given to the media, or Jack Campbell, who was backup and yet thrown to the media crowd to comment on the general state of California hockey past and present.
The Kings play Minnesota on Saturday at 1pm. Toronto is in Anaheim on Friday evening.
I’m on twitter @growinguphockey.
He was not a hockey guy, but a sportsman nonetheless. My friend and fellow karateka since 1986, Ron Van De Sandt, died this week. He lived in Ohio and is survived by a loyal group of friends, family, and students.
Ron and I are students of Master Roy Thomason, who received his 5thDan ranking from Sensei Fuse Kise and Sensei Hohan Soken of Okinawa.