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Maple Leafs face the Kings in their home court

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The last placed team is easy pickings, right? We know better than that.

NHL All Star Game Photo by Dave Sandford/Getty Images

Toronto Maple Leafs @ Los Angeles Kings:

Time: 10:30 p.m.

Location: The Staples Centre, er sorry, Center

Broadcast/Streaming: Sportsnet Ontario, Fox Sports - West

Opponent SBNation Site: Jewels from the Crown

The Leafs are in California to play three games in four days, with a there and back again trip form the LA area to San Jose and back to play the Ducks in the third game. This is dumb, and just makes a tough trip tougher. While I’m complaining, why hasn’t the league added the Vegas game to this trip for the Eastern Conference teams? It’s not far away and is in the same time zone.

As you likely know, the Kings are in last plast in the league with 11 points, half of the Leafs’ 22. You may also have heard that the Kings are going through goalies like they’re Vegas or something. They signed veteran Peter Budaj to be their third in the AHL, be the veteran guy who helps bring along Jack Camplbell and Cal Petersen. Now he’s in the NHL along with Petersen, and they will stay there at least until Campbell is healthy, if not longer.

Given all that, I’m sure you’re thinking that the Kings will run roughshod over the Leafs, beat them 9-1, and then publicly apologize after for getting their coach fired. It could happen, and who am I to get in the way of your pessimism. I assume Dion Phaneuf will get a hat trick.

Maple Leafs

The configuration from yesterday’s practice.

Forward Lines

Zach Hyman - John Tavares - Mitch Marner
Patrick Marleau - Nazem Kadri - Kasperi Kapanen
Andreas Johnsson - Par Lindholm - Connor Brown
Josh Leivo - Frederik Gauthier - Tyler Ennis

Defence Pairings

Morgan Rielly - Ron Hainsey
Jake Gardiner - Nikita Zaitsev
Travis Dermott - Igor Ozhiganov

Goaltenders

Frederik Andersen
Garret Sparks

Los Angeles Kings

From their last game.

Forward Lines

Alex Iafallo - Anze Kopitar - Dustin Brown
Ilya Kovalchuk - Jeff Carter - Tyler Toffoli
Tanner Pearson - Michael Amadio - Trevor Lewis
Kyle Clifford - Adrian Kempe - Nate Thompson

Defence Pairings

Derek Forbort - Drew Doughty
Jake Muzzin - Alec Martinez
Dion Phaneuf - Oscar Fantenberg

Goaltenders

Peter Budaj
Cal Petersen


The Leafs took Auston Matthews with them, so he didn’t miss his friends (and the beach time or whatever else a young man gets up to in California these days).

But they also called up a forward after they were already in LA:

I hope he was already there visiting family between the last Marlies games and this one. I know he’s not very tall, but don’t make the guy fly commercial for no reason, Leafs.

As expected, Martin Marincin gets to go back to the press box, and Igor Ozhiganov gets in the game. Everything else is back to how it was at the start of the last game, although the switch of Marner and Kapanen was effective against the Bruins, until that game went to hell at the very end. Masters also reported that the second power play unit was Gardiner, Ennis, Johnsson, Kapanen and Leivo, so if there’s a lot of penalties in this game, Kappy will be a busy man.

So what is up with the Kings? Did they get their coach fired, or did Rob Blake give his coach an old and slow team that can’t compete? Is Jack Hughes pricing beach houses in Malibu as we speak?

I never cared for John Stevens, and their play under him was very bad. Their power play was about the worst on the ice. I think the Sens PK likely was up to stopping it. When the Kings came to Toronto, the Leafs had a horrible night of failing to exit their zone once they got possession — I’m grading on the Leafs scale here, they were bad by their own standards. And the Kings just sort of stood there and didn’t react to this obvious from space weakness. Doughty looked wholly unconcerned with playing in that game too.

I’ve watched Ilya Kovalchuk more recently than most of you, and I thought that contract was an overpay. He’s got no pop at NHL speeds and without Nikita Gusev on the ice with him. But even so, he’s been okay, better than Patrick Marleau. Jeff Carter last looked really good right before his very unfortunate injury last year. He might just need more time to look like Jeff Carter.

But no one can look at this roster and not see the obvious problem. They have some younger players, but other than the dubious use of Iofallo on the top line, none of their younger guys are impact players.

Normally when you’re in last place this far into the season, the answer to your problems is to stay there with all the cunning and guile you can muster. There are two exceptions to that rule: if you’ve traded your first-round pick or if you’re in the Pacific Division (possibly the Metro this season too).

The Western Conference is essentially Nashville and then everyone else right now. In time Minnesota and Winnipeg might move up to join the Predators on firm ground as the best teams, and San Jose keeps threatening to, but other than them, no one in the Pacific is really very good. And no, Vancouver, you aren’t actually good.

The Kings have to be wavering on a game plan. They are said to be not in the market for a goalie, and Campbell won’t be out all that long, but Quick won’t be back so rapidly. Should they start selling off what they can for picks, and try to make Hughes’ California dreams come true? What’s the best they can get by trying super hard like hockey players are supposed to do? A first round playoff exit to the laughing Preds with “It’s all your fault” ringing in some rookie goalie’s ears?

The Los Angeles Kings have an Expected Goals Percentage right now of 48, that’s just tantalizingly close enough to okay that it can lead many a team to dream of being better just by wishing. And when Anaheim is right over there, playing the worst hockey in the NHL (yes worse than Ottawa) and they’re almost in a playoff spot, it can cloud the mind of even the cleverest GM. You can think that the sun is shining when it isn’t. You all remember those days when everyone worked hard to believe the Leafs just needed to tweak this or that to be good. LA might be in that place right now, and they might be angry and hard to beat, or indolent and lazy, who knows.

The sky in LA looks pretty grey to me.


Official word is: Andersen vs Budaj in net. No Trevor Moore.