Kings bring the Leafs to their knees
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.”
Los Angeles winger Tanner Pearson has Toronto defenceman Nikita Zaitsev pinned in the first period of a 7-0 Kings rout.