It was supposed to be the Los Angeles Kings who were in disarray coming into this game.
For most of the night though, particularly in the second period, it was the Toronto Maple Leafs who looked like the most dispirited team in the building. But thanks to the work of goaltender James Reimer, who faced 40 shots in regulation time, the Leafs made it to overtime, where they played some of their best hockey of the night in the last two minutes. However, it wasn’t good enough as the Kings took a 3-2 shootout win, leaving the Leafs with three consecutive losses, although they did get a point in this one.
The only solace the Leafs could take from the game was Reimer’s performance. It was the best night for the goaltender since he returned from a concussion on Dec. 3, which is good news for a team struggling at both ends of the ice now.
Funny thing, though. Reimer still could not shake the bad luck that has dogged him since he returned to the lineup. The Kings’ first goal by Justin Williams was courtesy of an odd bounce off a metal stanchion on the glass that saw the puck land in front of the net and on their second goal the Kings might have been off-side several seconds before Dustin Brown scored. Brown also scored the only goal of the shootout.
“I feel like I’m not getting the bounces but I felt pretty good tonight,” Reimer said after the game.
He tried to shrug off the bounce that led to Williams’ goal. “It makes you a better person and a better player. It will turn me into a better player by the end of the season, end of my career, take your pick.”
The worst thing about the bounce, which came on a shoot-in by Kings defenceman Drew Doughty was that Reimer played it by the book. Since, by his own admission he is not the NHL’s best puck-handling goaltender (“I kind of handle it like a grenade.”), Reimer stayed in his net by the post when the shot hit the glass.
“That’s what I’ve been told to do,” he said. “Even though I was prepared, it still surprised me.”
The Leafs got a bounce of their own about three minutes later. Rather, defenceman John-Michael Liles played a bounce perfectly for his fourth goal of the season. After Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick coughed up the puck, Leaf centre Tyler Bozak fired a hard pass across the slot from the right boards to the left boards. The puck bounced straight out from the boards and Liles nailed a perfect one-timer to tie the score.
In the second period, the Leafs took a breather, watching the Kings outshoot them 16-4. Only Reimer kept them in the game. He showed his mettle early, making a nifty glove save on a difficult save that came through a crowd 29 seconds into the period.
“He played really well. He saw just about every puck in traffic,” Leafs head coach Ron Wilson said. “He had some trouble handling the puck but that’s nit-picking.
Wilson must have had something to say during the intermission because the Leafs showed a little more life in the third. They also injected some life into the crowd at 2:56 when Matt Frattin tied the score.
Leaf fans were greatly exercised about Brown’s power-play goal that put the Kings ahead in the second period. Television replays showed that Doughty may have failed to keep the puck on-side at the Leaf blue line shortly before Brown scored. There was no whistle and play continued until Brown scored.
However, no replay showed the puck clearly enough to say for sure.
A lowlight of the second period saw the Kings’ top line of Gagne, Anze Kopitar and Brown play a tremendous game of keepaway with the Leafs’ top line of Tim Connolly, Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul around the 10-minute mark.
For a good 30 seconds, the Kings passed the puck around the Leafs’ zone while the Leafs mostly stood and watched. It was as if they were not aware you are allowed to chase the puck in the NHL. The sequence ended with a good pad save by Reimer on Gagne, who took a pass in front of the net and had lots of room to shoot.