Toronto Maple Leafs @ Los Angeles Kings
10:30 PM at Crypto.com Arena
Watch on: SNO, ESPN+, HULU
The Los Angeles Kings last played at home on December 30 against the Edmonton Oilers. The Kings lost by a score of 3-2 in a shootout, and their current league record is 20-8-5 for a 0.682 Points %.
The Leafs last game was at home on December 30 against the Carolina Hurricanes, which Toronto lost by a score of 3-2 in regulation. The Leafs have a record of 17-10-7 for a 0.603 Points %.
It's easy to forget the Western Conference even exists in a season like the Leafs have had to date, where they've played largely against other Eastern teams. So you're forgiven if you haven't noticed who the Kings have become. Last year they were a playoff team in that way a team can be in the Pacific Division where they'd have no hope in the east. They got beat in the first round by the Oilers.
This year, they're the fifth ranked team in the league by Points % and 18 of their 20 wins are in regulation. They trail only the Canucks in goal differential. At five-on-five, they are second in Expected Goals % and Corsi %. They aren't juiced up on Shooting or Save % either – they are middling at both.
They are, like the Kings of old, just killing it with puck possession. If that sounds like the Hurricanes, it should. They have a similar offensive style, although they don't shoot quite so much from the point as Carolina does (no one does, or should really). The net-front in their end is a blackhole. Don't try to shoot from there, they'll just say no.
Their special teams are a titch weaker than Toronto's, but not by an amount you can see game-in-game out.
Where are they getting this possession dominance from? It starts with Vladislav Gavrikov, continues through their top-six forwards, where Trevor Moore is a legitimate component, and it carries on down, deep into the lineup. Most teams start to look bad long before you get to the fourth line. Not these guys.
Weak links are Pierre-Luc Dubois, Mikey Anderson on offence (he's just Drew Doughty's coatrack, so it's fine), Andreas Englund on defence, and Carl Grundstrom. Their whole fourth line is a bit, eh, nothing but hits, but they don't need to care.
If they had a better goalie, they'd be leading the NHL in points. Cam Talbot is likely to start tonight.
Last Game (12/30) via Daily Faceoff
Quinton Byfield - Anze Kopitar - Adrian Kempe
Kevin Fiala - Phillip Danault - Trevor Moore
Alex Laferriere - Pierre-Luc Dubois - Arthur Kaliyev
Carl Grundstrom - Blake Lizotte - Trevor Lewis
Mikey Anderson - Drew Doughty
Vladislav Gavrikov - Matt Roy
Andreas Englund - Jordan Spence
Let's just get this out of the way first. If the Leafs played Dennis Hildeby against this team when they play the Ducks the next night, it would be as astonishing as if someone had claimed Ilya Samsonov on waivers. Jones will start, and Sheldon Keefe still isn't saying if Hildeby will even play tomorrow.
The Leafs travelled with 23 healthy players and Ryan Reaves on IR, so for him to come off IR and play, someone has to either go on IR or be sent to the minors. Reaves is practicing with the team, however.
David Alter via Daily Faceoff from yesterday's practice
Matthew Knies - Auston Matthews - Mitch Marner
Tyler Bertuzzi - John Tavares - William Nylander
Nicholas Robertson - Max Domi - Calle Järnkrok
Bobby McMann - David Kämpf - Noah Gregor
Morgan Rielly - T.J. Brodie
Simon Benoit - Jake McCabe
Mark Giordano - Timothy Liljegren
Martin Jones - starter
This is the same game as last game. From the top down, the Kings playing Talbot is the same as the Canes playing a resurgent Pyotr Kochetkov. I tried to come as close as I could in the preview to the last game, without actually saying it, to admitting that the Leafs likely wouldn't win that game. That was at home. On the road, they have less chance.
Oh but the goalie, though, he let in that stinker and it's so bad!! Yeah, no shit. Everyone knows what's what with Martin Jones. He exists on the Leafs because he is just good enough to play while being bad enough to take a nice low salary and clear waivers. He's a feature, not a bug. And he's the kind of feature every single skater on the team understands perfectly well.
They sure seemed to get it against Carolina, because I was pretty happy with that game. They did way better than I expected, and the top six, who used to just fold against a team like that and lose no matter who was in net, they really showed up. Now they get to try again. That's the game. Hockey is about what you do the day after failure, the shift after, the moment after. It's about what you do when you don't get what you deserve.
The Leafs damn near beat the Canes. They can beat the Kings. Maybe they will. We started the day with a big "there's no such thing as deserve in hockey" lesson. We might just give the Kings one to finish it.