The Toronto Maple Leafs kids finally had their first trip to school.
This one was a thumping, too, and a lot uglier than their 7-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning two weeks back. Tuesday evening, the night of the U.S. election, wasn’t even close, unlike the polls. The Los Angeles Kings came into Air Canada Centre and stomped one of the NHL’s youngest team 7-0, never allowing for even the appearance of a contest.
The Leafs rarely had the puck, let alone a scoring chance. They were outshot three to one in the first period and 31-11 after 40 minutes. They conceded the neutral zone so easily that Los Angeles simply breezed through and then lost battles for the puck. They were labouring to get through the middle of the ice themselves. When they had the puck, they often had to dump it in for a brief reprieve.
The Leafs, for the first time this year, looked truly outclassed.
Part of that was this time it wasn’t on the goalie – even though Frederik Andersen wasn’t all that impressive and was chased from the net after allowing four goals in 33 minutes.
This one was a full team face plant, the one that Leafs coach Mike Babcock had sounded a bit worried about before the game.
“They do a real good job in the neutral zone,” Babcock mused of the Kings, who he had been watching on video early that morning. “The reason is because they wear out your [defence] in your zone. They don’t have to worry about playing in the [defensive] zone as much.”
Hours later, the Kings hardly saw their defensive zone.
“They’re a big, heavy team,” Babcock continued. “They don’t turn pucks over.”
The Leafs? They certainly did – with defenceman Martin Marincin having a particularly tough night – now a likely candidate to sit with Matt Hunwick, expected back from injury by Friday against Philadelphia.
But Marincin had company. The fourth line was burned badly on the first goal, as newcomer Ben Smith continues to struggle. Auston Matthews’s unit went from a brilliant early second-period cycling shift into being stranded on the ice too long – a minute, 20 seconds – and allowing the 2-0 goal when Smith couldn’t clear the zone.
It wasn’t the same Kings beating them, either. Dustin Brown had the game’s opening goal from his new home on the third line. Then Tanner Pearson (via Anze Kopitar) had the second on a one-timer. Then “That 70s line” blew the game open with three consecutive goals – two off the stick of Jeff Carter, who Babcock had pointed out was like having a second No. 1 pivot, a luxury few NHL teams can afford.
“It’s a real good opportunity for us to play them right now,” Babcock had added, in the morning, before the bloodbath.
In a way, it was. The Leafs were on a three-game winning streak, right in the early hunt for a playoff spot, before facing the Kings. They had reeled off impressive wins over Edmonton, Buffalo and Vancouver, playing the kind of pace-pushing possession hockey Babcock loves.
That gave them an air of looseness at Monday’s practice, with the youngsters smiling wide and clearly riding high after their first taste of big-league success.
A loss like this is an early reality check. It’s a real good opportunity.
The Kings have won two of the past five Stanley Cups. They’re one of the biggest teams in the league, the best possession team in hockey and also one of the oldest – a savvy group that knows all about the long, long grind of the season turning into a longer gauntlet in the playoffs.
They’re not fazed by three-game winning streaks or three-game losing streaks – note: they’ve had two already – or much in-between.
The Leafs? They have a lot of lessons they can take out of this one, even if it was only Game 13. Most importantly, they can note the fact that they have a ton to learn and a long way to go to get where a team like the Kings are.
They can start in the neutral zone.Report Typo/Error