The stars are aligning for a very difficult game for the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday night.
Not only have they won only six of their last 17 games and struggled to score throughout, but they also have to face the powerhouse Los Angeles Kings without their top minute player.
The Kings are a ridiculous 11-1-4 in their last 16 games and haven’t allowed more than two goals since Nov. 2. They’re also coming off a dominating 6-0 win over the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday night.
The Leafs, meanwhile, will have to contend with one of the best teams in the West without captain Dion Phaneuf, who will miss the next two outings due to a suspension.
For all the controversy always around him, the Leafs captain has logged more minutes in the NHL than almost any other player the last three years and has often been a stabilizing force.
Given how Toronto’s defence has laboured this season – allowing more shots than almost any other team in league history so far – things could get ugly without Phaneuf.
Based on lines in practice this week, it appears coach Randy Carlyle is reuniting the pairing of Mark Fraser and Paul Ranger against the Kings, likely because they’re bigger defencemen who can presumably contend with bigger forwards.
But Fraser-Ranger has been Toronto’s weakest pairing this season, as both players have struggled through injuries and poor play all year.
The Leafs have been outscored 2-to-1 with Fraser on the ice at even strength, and when the two have been on the ice together, Toronto has only had 40 per cent of the shot attempts on goal.
Expected to ride this one out in the press box, meanwhile, will be rookies Morgan Rielly and Jerry D’Amigo, both of whom have played better than those who’ll be in the lineup.
The Kings are one of the most dominant possession teams in the league (56 per cent Fenwick Close), and the Leafs are one of the worst since those metrics have been kept (42.2 percent), so don’t expect to see the puck in the visitor’s end all that often.