Toronto Maple Leafs vs Los Angeles Kings
7:30 pm on Sportsnet, TVAS, NHLN and BSW
A very busy section of the schedule continues with my favourite thing: a Monday game. A visit from the Kings is always fun because we get to hear all the stories again about Jack Campbell and Jake Muzzin. Speaking of, Jack Campbell is the starter for the next however many weeks, as Petr Mrázek is out with a groin injury. Again. Somebody is going to start one of the back-to-backs on the weekend, but tonight is all Jack, and that’s good because the last two games have been very Jack-infused wins. He’s been great, and the Leafs are still playing in a way that they need great some of the time.
The Kings have a big defence problem. After they traded Muzzin to the Leafs, they sent Alec Martinez to Vegas and kept Drew Doughty, and the quietly fantastic Sean Walker. Both of them are injured, so the Kings are relying on their newer acquisitions, two odd choices in Olli Määttä and Alex Edler. Padding out that pair of veterans is a lot of young players, including Mikey Anderson (Joey’s brother) and Tobias Björnfot, drafted in the first round in 2019.
Up front, the Kings are getting a very good season so far out of Anze Kopitar by virtue of having a really good two-way centre on the second line now in Phillip Danault. Their wingers are not top-notch, but they aren’t too over their heads. Our old friend Carl Grundström is on their third line, and you’ll never guess who the other winger on that line is. Viktor Arvidsson has been in Covid protocol, and is be unavailable again from the latest report.
The most recent lines from Daily Faceoff are:
Adrian Kempe - Anze Kopitar - Dustin Brown
Andreas Athanasiou - Phillip Danault - Alex Iafallo
Carl Grundström - Rasmus Kupari - Trevor Moore
Brendan Lemieux - Blake Lizotte - Arthur Kaliyev
Alexander Edler - Kale Clague
Olli Määttä - Matt Roy
Tobias Björnfot - Mikey Anderson
Petersen started on Friday, so it is Quick’s turn tonight.
The Maple Leafs called up two forwards for tonight — Kirill Semyonov and Joey Anderson. Semyonov is doing a turn on the Marlies reminiscent of Alex Barabanov last year. He, like Barabanov, has nothing to learn and no development to achieve in the AHL, but the question to be answered is can he add value in the NHL, and do the Leafs have room for him. Anderson, brother of Mikey, is in his make or break year, and needs to at least show up at some Leafs practices to try to get noticed.
At the end of the last game, Nick Ritchie climbed up off the fourth line in the next chapter of his manufactured tale of demotion and redemption. The third line was his destiny, and if he can be useful there, that’s a tolerable contract. We might see the Ritchie/Engvall swap continue tonight, or someone might have to be seen to earn/deserve the promotion/demotion.
With no changes in personnel expected, the lines tonight would be something like:
Michael Bunting - Auston Matthews - William Nylander
Alexander Kerfoot - John Tavares - Mitch Marner
Nick Ritchie - David Kämpf - Ondřej Kaše
Pierre Engvall - Jason Spezza - Wayne Simmonds
Morgan Rielly - Travis Dermott
Jake Muzzin - TJ Brodie
Rasmus Sandin - Timothy Liljegren
The Kings are in that grey zone where they aren’t the bottom feeder, deeply bad team they’ve been for a couple of years, and are climbing up the rankings in a division that makes that somewhat easy. This makes them hard to judge in terms of overall strength, but they do have two players who are guaranteed to give the Leafs trouble: Kopitar and Danault.
If the Kings can keep this to a very low-event game where they keep the puck close to 50% of the time, they have a stronger chance. If they let the Leafs open it up, they’ll get some rush chances against — the Leafs give those away for free — but they are lacking any horse for that course. That said, this is a game the Leafs should win, and will be a good test of playing against good defensive centres.