After getting embarrassed in Detroit on Saturday, the frustrated Kings will look to take out their anger against the Leafs when they pay them a visit on Monday, a game which will close out their road trip and likely John Stevens’ tenure as the interim head coach of the Kings. The Kings will hope for a win, in order to finish both the road trip and the Stevens era with a .500 record of 2-2-0. Hopefully for the Kings, their blowout loss on Saturday represented rock bottom for them and, clearly extremely frustrated and angry after the game, they can channel their emotions in a positive way on the ice on Monday and get this thing turned around.
Again, their opponent will be the Toronto Maple Leafs, a team that is pretty much the polar opposite of the Kings. The Kings struggle to score but are usually a good defensive team (although they obviously weren’t in their last game against the Red Wings), while the Maple Leafs, led by Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul who are having sensational seasons, don’t have much trouble scoring, but they do have trouble keeping the puck out of their own net, and the Kings will hope that a date with the Leafs can help cure their offensive woes and end their franchise record 11-game stretch without scoring more than two goals in a game.
The Leafs have scored 100 goals while allowing 105 goals this year, while the Kings, on the other hand, have numbers much lower in each category, 69 goals for, 79 goals against. Toronto’s offense ranks seventh in the NHL, averaging 3.03 goals per game. The Kings’ sixth-ranked defense, allowing an average of 2.43 goals against per game, will be looking to rebound from an awful performance in an 8-2 loss in Detroit (by the way, in Terry Murray’s 287 regular season and playoff games behind the Kings bench, they never allowed eight or more goals in a game). Meanwhile, the Kings’ 30th-ranked offense, averaging just 2.12 goals per game, will hope that the Leafs’ 27th-ranked defense, surrendering an average of 3.25 goals against per game, can help revive them.
On special teams, the Kings have a seriously slumping power-play that has fallen into a tie for 22nd in the NHL with the Tampa Bay Lightning, converting on just 15.3% of their opportunities, but the Leafs have major troubles killing penalties. In fact, the 73.2% of their penalties that they’ve killed off ranks their penalty kill last in the NHL. This isn’t the first time that the Kings have gotten to face a bad penalty kill, but they haven’t taken advantage of them in the past. Will they finally be able to this time? Meanwhile, the Leafs have the second best power-play in the NHL, converting on 22.3% of their opportunities, but the Kings penalty kill has been strong lately and overall is ranked sixth in the league, killing off 86% of their penalties, so they should be a stiff test for Toronto’s power-play. This game seems like a classic case of strength versus strength and weakness versus weakness (the Leafs’ strong offense and power-play against the Kings’ strong defense and penalty kill, and the Kings’ terrible offense and power-play against the Leafs’ terrible defense and penalty kill).
It’s hard to know what to make of the Leafs this season. Of course, they haven’t made the playoffs since 2004, joining the Florida Panthers as the only teams in the league who haven’t made the playoffs since the lockout, but a strong finish to last season almost got them back into the playoffs. They didn’t get there, but they finished strong and were able to carry the momentum over into the start of this season, going 7-3-1 in October. They cooled off a a bit in November, going 7-6-1, and haven’t had the greatest of Decembers so far, going 2-4-1, and overall are 4-5-1 in their last 10 games and have lost two straight. Overall, their 16-13-3 record (35 points in 32 games) has them placed just inside the playoffs at the moment, eighth in the East, and tied for seventh with the Buffalo Sabres.
As mentioned earlier, the Leafs have been led by their dynamic offensive duo of first line wingers Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul. It hasn’t been a huge surprise to see Kessel having this type of success this season, but it’s been a much bigger surprise to see the type of success that Lupul is having. Lupul was traded by Anaheim to Toronto along with defense prospect and Justin Bieber fan Jake Gardiner for Francois Beauchemin back in February, and at the time, Lupul was seen as a cash dump by the Ducks, that they were giving up on the former first-round pick who couldn’t seem to stay healthy, or produce enough when he was healthy. Given an opportunity and a fresh start in Toronto, Lupul has made the most of it, as the 28-year old has had a breakout season and is finally showing why Anaheim took him with the seventh-overall pick in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft, and despite Beauchemin having a strong season in Anaheim, you can bet the Ducks regret that trade, especially because Gardiner is also having a strong rookie season in Toronto. Maybe they should have just re-signed Beauchemin after the 2008-2009 season so they could have kept Lupul and Gardiner as well as had Beauchemin…
In 32 games, Lupul has 15 goals and 21 assists, and his 36 points have him tied with Evgeni Malkin and Jason Spezza for fourth in NHL scoring. Kessel, meanwhile, has 19 goals and 20 assists in 32 games, and his 39 points have him tied for first in NHL scoring (with the concussed Claude Giroux, who has played four less games), and his 19 goals have him tied for second in the league (with the also concussed Milan Michalek, who’s played one less game). Kessel and Lupul have been on a tear all season, and the Kings will look to slow them down in this one. Adding depth behind Kessel and Lupul to make up their formidable offense are the likes of Tim Connolly, Mikhail Grabovski, Nikolai Kulemin, Clarke MacArthur, Tyler Bozak, Matt Frattin, Colby Armstrong, Joey Crabb, Philippe Dupuis, Colton Orr, Jay Rosehell and David Steckel. Two of them will be a healthy scratch, but one of the scratches may end up being Steckel, as the faceoff specialist has the flu. This is just my guess, but if he doesn’t play, expect enforcer Colton Orr to be the other scratch. If he does, expect Orr and fellow enforcer Jay Rosehill to be the healthy scratches. Mike Brown and Matthew Lombardi are on the injured reserve.
On defense, John-Michael Liles and Dion Phaneuf are having strong seasons, and behind them are the likes of Luke Schenn, Cody Franson, Carl Gunnarsson, Jake Gardiner and Keith Aulie. One of them will be a healthy scratch, while Mike Komisarek is on the injured reserve.
In goal, it will likely be James Reimer, who recently returned from an early-season concussion that saw him miss a lot of time, and hasn’t been great since returning. Overall on the season, he’s 5-3-2 with a shutout to go along with a 2.97 GAA and an .892 Sv%. It could also be Jonas Gustavsson, who’s 9-6-0 on the season, but with a 3.26 GAA and an .898 Sv%, not very impressive numbers. However, he has been playing pretty well as of late.
For the Kings, up front it’s expected to be Anze Kopitar between Simon Gagne and Dustin Brown, Jarret Stoll between Dustin Penner and Justin Williams (that line was very good against Detroit), Andrei Loktionov between Kyle Clifford and Trevor Lewis, and Colin Fraser between Brad Richardson and either Kevin Westgarth or Trent Hunter. One of Westgarth or Hunter will be a healthy scratch.
On defense, it’s expected to be Rob Scuderi with Drew Doughty, Willie Mitchell with Jack Johnson, and Davis Drewiske with Matt Greene. Alec Martinez and Slava Voynov are expected to be healthy scratches, the third straight game for Voynov, probably because they really have to wait until Davis Drewiske stops scoring to take him out of the lineup. He’s the only player on the team who’s scoring right now, a sure sign that things aren’t going well…
In goal, both Jonathan Quick and Jonathan Bernier had not very fun nights in Detroit, and it’s expected that Quick will get the first chance to rebound, as he’ll likely start in Toronto on Monday.
Well, this is likely the final game that John Stevens will be serving as the Kings’ interim head coach. Will they be able to finally break out of their offensive slump against the defensively-challenged Leafs and finish off their road trip — as well as head into the Darryl Sutter era — on a high note, or will the Leafs continue the Kings’ misery?
NOTE: This is a big game for me, personally. Not only are the Leafs probably my least-favourite team in the NHL, but despite being a Kings fan, I live in Scarborugh (which is really part of Toronto). Naturally, most of my friends are Leafs fans. It was not a fun time for me when they beat the Kings last year, so it would be nice if the Kings could beat them this year and give me the bragging rights this time…