Kings bring the Leafs to their knees

Toronto Star - - SPORTS - MARK ZWOLINSKI SPORTS RE­PORTER

The Los An­ge­les Kings came to the Air Canada Cen­tre Tues­day night with a solid rep­u­ta­tion for han­dling their own zone as well as any team in the NHL.

Af­ter a con­vinc­ing 7-0 win over Toronto, there was no rea­son to doubt that rep­u­ta­tion.

This was a great op­por­tu­nity for the Leafs, win­ners of three straight, to see how their youth-driven ros­ter mea­sured up to a Kings team that Toronto coach Mike Bab­cock re­ferred to as “hard and heavy” in the way they ap­proach the game.

The Kings dom­i­nated play in their own zone — and the whole ice, for that mat­ter — and turned this game into a one-sided af­fair.

Af­ter Dustin Brown opened the scor­ing on a soft wrist shot through a screen at 13:56 of the first pe­riod, the game be­gan to slide away from the Leafs. They had come out anx­ious to prove them­selves but couldn’t match the Kings’ phys­i­cal play and great or­ga­ni­za­tion in the de­fen­sive and neu­tral zones.

Los An­ge­les scored four unan­swered goals in the sec­ond pe­riod — with Jeff Carter pick­ing up a pair — to ice the con­test, then added a pair of late goals in the third that only added to the em­bar­rass­ment.

The goal on­slaught in the mid­dle pe­riod spelled the end for Leafs goalie Fred­erik Andersen. Bab­cock pulled him at 4-0 in favour of backup Jhonas En­roth.

Carter scored his sec­ond against En­roth on a bank shot from a spot be­hind and to the side of the Leafs’ net. Toronto de­fend­ers were ba­si­cally stand­ing around at that point, hav­ing lit­tle left af­ter ab­sorb­ing ar­guably the most dom­i­nat­ing, sin­gle-pe­riod per­for­mance by an op­po­nent so far this sea­son.

Andersen was beaten to the glove side on all four goals. That raised some alarm bells, since he had ap­peared back on top of his game in his last five starts.

But while the Kings’ first goal was on a soft shot, the sec­ond and third were bul­let shots from Tan­ner Pear­son and Tyler Tof­foli. And the Leafs de­fence made mis­takes at both ends of the ice, leav­ing Andersen to face the Kings snipers on odd man rushes.

The re­sults were pre­dictable af­ter that.

The Kings wound up lim­it­ing the Leafs — the NHL’s lead­ing team in shots on goal — to just five first-pe­riod shots and six more in the sec­ond. Thanks to three power plays, the Kings were able to build a 31-11 edge in shots af­ter 40 min­utes.

In the end, there was no doubt as to why the Kings en­tered the game with the NHL’s top rat­ing in shots al­lowed per game (25.1). They out­shot Toronto 43-19 over­all. Kings goalie Peter Bu­daj picked up his sec­ond con­sec­u­tive shutout. Be­fore than, he hadn’t had one since 2013.

Bab­cock tried to shake up his soft­en­ing team, mix­ing lines up in the sec­ond. He tried, at one point, putting Mitch Marner and Aus­ton Matthews to­gether.

The Leafs re­sponded with some pres­sure. But most of their shots were from well out­side; and Bu­daj had a solid view of most, if not all of them. That’s how good the Kings were in their de­fen­sive zone. Leafs fans saw less-her­alded play­ers like de­fence­man Nick Shore slam the young Leaf stars into the board al­most ev­ery time the home side tried to work a cy­cle.

The Kings also showed their ex­cel­lence in cut­ting down shoot­ing lanes and mov­ing the puck out of their zone be­fore the Leafs had a chance to re­act.

Bab­cock knew what was in store, even be­fore the game, when he was asked how the Leafs would cre­ate of­fence against a for­mi­da­ble de­fen­sive team like the Kings.

“I was look­ing at that here to­day,” Bab­cock said of the Kings’ lead­ing the league in shots against. “They do a real good job in the neu­tral zone. The rea­son they do a real good job there is be­cause they wear out your de­fence­man in your zone, so they don’t have to worry about play­ing in their de­fen­sive zone so much.”

FRANK GUNN/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Los An­ge­les winger Tan­ner Pear­son has Toronto de­fence­man Nikita Zait­sev pinned in the first pe­riod of a 7-0 Kings rout.

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