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Recap: The Leafs dig their own grave vs the Kings in a 5-3 loss

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The Leafs won the first one in this two-game season series. They decided to play the game over on nightmare level by nerfing all their skills for 20 minutes.

NHL: Toronto Maple Leafs at Los Angeles Kings Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

For the first time this season, the Leafs are playing a team for a second time. So both teams know each other, and this time, the Kings are on their turf, and want to win.

To review, Mike Babcock made some more changes to the lineup today. It’s not about punishment, however. Josh Leivo isn’t in the pressbox because his performance outside the power play was so bad last night, he’s there because Babcock wants to get Kasperi Kapanen in another game and see how he is playing.

I think Roman Polak has drawn in to replace Connor Carrick not because there’s any sort of determination of better or worse there, but because Polak plays without the puck most of the time, and that way his partner is the puck-carrier and the offensive force. If that’s Jake Gardiner or Andreas Borgman, he’s who is important. The flaw in this plan is that Polak might be the right type of defenceman for this job, he’s just not very good. Mixing up type you like with good is a thing everyone does. Even coaches.

Tyler Bozak and Mitch Marner are both still on the “fourth line”, and Dominic Moore is out of the lineup making me nervous while watching the penalty kill. Curtis McElhinney is in net, making me nervous all the time.

First Period

As Bob McKenzie says in the opener, the Bozak line were the third line by total minutes in Anaheim. We shall see if they creep up to second in this game.

McElhinney with a quick save early. You can count on the Leafs to get the goalie warmed up fast.

Neutral zone turnovers are the big problem with this team lately, and when one goes to the Kings’ hot second line, it leads to a good chance and a good save by McE.

An offensive zone faceoff turns into the Leafs regrouping in the defensive zone when Jake Gardiner falls on his butt like a five year old at public skating. Mike Amadio gets his first NHL goal past a motionless McE. 1-0 Kings.

LA gets a power play right away on a slashing call to James van Riemsdyk, in case this game wasn’t looking like enough of a disaster.

And disaster it is. McE is swimming out of the net halfway to Malibu, and the puck goes right through him to an open shooter. The net is wide open, and this is a trash bit of play from everyone. Total trash. 2-0 Kings.

LA takes a slashing call right after, and this is the Leafs’ chance to get it together and stem the bleeding. The power play looks busy, but isn’t productive.

Brooks Laich gets called for touching the puck while he doesn’t have his whole body out of the penalty box, which means he goes and sits for two more minutes. More busy passing ensues, and not much dangerous shooting barring a van Riemsdyk chance.

One Kadri flurry busies up the end of the power play that Jonathan Quick handles easily. Brooks Laich streaks off with the puck out of the box, but he’s no threat to score.

The Leafs haven’t scored, but the panic has cooled by some extended power play time, so good enough. The first period is only half over.

The Kadri line is looking on their game tonight. This is me searching for a bright side here.

The Leafs lay on some pressure, and then with the Kings getting a couple of shots, McE gets to settle down with a couple of saves.

Suddenly this game looks more like what you should expect from the Leafs. Just like last night, Nikita Zaitsev, who is way off his game lately, was on the third pair in warmup. That didn’t last and he is back with Gardiner.

Brown has a good chance that goes wide. The new Patrick Marleau line continues to be good so far.

Kadri has a great chance and just shoots it crazy off target.

Marner gets a post on a good shift for him and Bozak.

Matthews with a chance after a McE save at the other end, and Quick has it. The hill they have to climb isn’t just two goals, it’s two goals with Quick on his game in his best run of play in years.

So what to say here? You’ve gone deep enough, stop digging?

The Leafs turn it over, the Kings lose it, the Leafs give it away, okay, no Kadri, not the Leafs. McE lets it in, because, after that full shift of scramble-brained nonsense, what can he do? 3-0 Kings.

There is damn near another goal seconds before the period ends when the Kings miss a wide open net after a McE rebound goes right to the Kings’ player’s stick.

UGH!

Who the hell cares about shot plots or ice time? Enough players played like trash to dig this game a grave in 20 minutes. Come on Leafs, prove me wrong. Show me you can score four and win it. (Who am I kidding, they’ll need 10.)

Second Period

The second period opens with a lot of whistles, keeping it from having any flow. Quick thinks that’s fine, so he freezes a puck he easily could have played. This smart tactic by goalies helps make NHL hockey dull.

Some passing in the neutral zone get that zone entry artist, Matt Martin, over the blue line with the puck, and Marner gets a shot off. It’s hockey finally.

McE makes a save on an Adrian Kempe shot, and the puck dribbles away when he can’t control it. Every game he plays is full of these sorts of errors.

The Kings aren’t playing very good, to be honest. But they check so hard and so well when the Leafs have the offensive zone, the Leafs have to really work to do anything smart with the time there.

The Leafs melt like ice in the sunshine in the neutral zone.

Hyman with a great chance, as the game opens up a little. The Leafs need to speed up a little too.

Bozak with a good chance, and this “fourth” line looks hot. You know, and hear me out here, do you suppose Bozak and Marner with a left wing who was really tough but also a good player might work out? I actually said this mid-game vs the Ducks, but Martin pretending to be Gabe Landeskog or Wayne Simmonds makes it obvious what this team needs.

Marleau with a great chance, and Quick is up to it.

I’m really pissed off at this team right now, but the Leafs have had a lot of good chances particularly off the rush.

Borgman accidentally gives the puck away on a flubbed point shot, and then he fixes it with interference. That might be a shit happens sort of bad penalty, but it’s not what the Leafs need.

Kapanen on the PK in the NHL is a good sight. He’s got the right skills to fit with this forward group. There just isn’t the space for him. Yet.

Wow. Borgman comes out of the penalty box with his tail on fire. He goes on a deke run behind the Kings net, and gets a shot off. The Swedish fans told me he had all these part of a great game, but they just weren’t stitched together very well yet. Both of those things are true.

Polak tries that interference idea and the Leafs are on the PK again. If you play well for most of a period and then waste four minutes on the PK, you aren’t climbing out of your hole. You’ve just laid down in it to sleep.

Wow. This Kings power play is terrible. Lucky for the Leafs.

I’m leaving that line in because it was true. McE makes one of his bunt it up into the high slot off his body saves, and the Kings keep the play alive until they have a cross crease pass in tight, and McE can’t stop that on his best day. 4-0 Kings.

This game is not a good hockey game. You come here for this hard-hitting analysis, don’t you?

And now, dear Leafs, you have a problem. If you hadn’t been laying eggs lately, if you didn’t have half your top lines in a state of flux, you could lay off and call the code on this one, get in some on-ice rest and live to fight the Blues on Saturday. But you can’t now. You have to give ‘er hard for the next 25 minutes.

That’s not what I meant by give, guys. The Leafs, wait for it, turn it over, and the Kings get a break with three men across, and Zaitsev looked like he’s never played defence before in his life. He has the yips, that’s all there is to it. Tyler Taffoli gets his second of the night. 5-0 Kings.

Borgman gets an embellishment penalty on one of those weird ones where there was a straight up hook by the Kings player, and ... yeah, Borgman fell down. Weird shit.

Matthews gets a breakaway, and Kopitar checks him enough that Matthews has a penalty shot. That was ... kind of weak, considering things I’ve seen, but Koptiar was going right for Matthews’ stick. Opinions vary on if he even touched Matthews’ stick

Does he score? Guess. 5-1 Kings.

This was Matthews’ first penalty shot in the NHL and his 50th goal. Crowd does a “ref you suck” chant, and you know, do they figure their bosses in Toronto/New York are asleep? Because the reffing in California has been bad in general.

Matthews’ line is digging hard for the puck and a centring pass by the master to Morgan Rielly makes it 5-2 Kings.

The Quick temper tantrum after is fun.

UGH!

This game is right back where it was. It’s just weird now as well as bad. No stats! I refuse to look. If the Leafs are actually winning the Corsi battle right now, I might personally meet them in St. Louis and slap them all. Not Matthews. He’s good.

Third Period

So before that damn Matthews kid made two goals happen, I was going to go to bed and just put in rocks fall, everyone dies as the ending here. Damn kid.

So here we go. Big hole. Quick on his game. Leafs looking like they need a meditation session and an hour of yoga with soothing music playing. I’m sure that’s mostly what Babcock provided in the intermission.

Zaitsev is back on the third pair with Borgman because there is no fourth pair. This has to be fixed because Hainsey is being overworked.

Gardiner checks Toffoli on a breakaway, but Gardiner uses his stick in a more clever way, to keep from being called on it. So the hole isn’t any deeper.

Marleau line gets a sort of four-across rush and draw a penalty. Duh duh duh. But this isn’t a movie, so, this isn’t going to suddenly be a goal.

Heh. Reverse jinx worked. Connor Brown assayed a deeply weird zone entry on the power play that involved a sudden stop and drop pass (with cause). Luckily Gardiner caught the plot and kept it onside, then passity, passity, pass, pass, and Brown puts it in the net.

The Kings challenge on goaltender interference, but that was specious. 5-3 Kings.

It’s been a long time since the Leafs were only down by two.

The Kings have an offensive flurry and I remember that’s McE and almost sobbed. But no shot ever comes.

Zaitsev with a point shot that almost turns into something. He has to want a consolation goal so bad right now.

Bozak with a quick shot off the faceoff and then another chance. It’s important to have a fourth line with a 55 point guy on it, just saying. If he’s got it going again, though, life for the Leafs will dramatically improve.

McE needs to never play the puck behind the net.

Kadri and Komarov below the goal line are great and get the puck to Kapanen, who hacks at it a dozen times, but it won’t go in.

Hyman takes a holding call at the six minute mark, and this game looks done.

McE makes one of those great saves of his on Kopitar that helps to erase the memory of the rest of his play.

The Leafs pull the goalie, but Quick is dialed in. This is exactly when you want to see the linesman get some airtime by pissing around with faceoff violations.

The Leafs get another penalty shot! Jake Muzzin knocks the net off, and I did not know this, but in the last two minutes, that’s an automatic penalty.

Matthews to take the shot. This one misses high.

The Leafs have another push, but there’s no time. Borgman moves the puck through traffic to Marleau who makes it a two-man rush with Borgman, but no dice. Lovely play though.

Summary

UGH!

The defence was generally terrible for the first half of this game. The forwards were for the first period. The Kings are weak enough that even with Quick playing like he was, this was a winnable game with a dose of luck. Second night of a back-to-back for both teams with almost no travel for the Leafs makes that excuse weak. The backup goalie is weak. So, you have to compensate for that, and they didn’t. This game was lost on unforced errors as all the cool kids say now. Playing like shit is the old fashioned word for it.

The Leafs might have bordered on greatness at times in the second half, but they dug the hole they finished the night in with their own hands.