Toronto Maple Leafs 5 at Los Angeles Kings 0 – 2022-12-09 recap

I’m a few days late on this post (should be caught up to live play before this week’s games) but I was very impressed by the Leafs performance beginning to end.

This wasn’t the Leafs most complete game of the season, though. Their 5-2 win against Philadelphia earlier this season was a little stronger (they out-chanced the Flyers 23-3 at even strength in that game and pulled away midway through the third period) but considering the level of opponent, this is as good of a game as the Leafs could have played.

If nothing else, the Kings have been a good offensive team this season, or at least good at getting the puck to the right end of the ice. I’m a little skeptical that their offence is as good as expected goals for models suggest, since they aren’t a team that really moves the puck well in the offensive zone and looks for cross-seam passes. Case in point: of their six scoring chances at 5v5 in this game, only three were set up by teammates. In two total games against the Leafs this season, they had six scoring chances set up by teammates.

Still, playing at the wrong end of the ice, especially if the game is close, can have consequences. You’re leaving yourself exposed to a bad bounce and then when disaster strikes, like a 5-minute match penalty, you can see a big lead start to slip away even if you have a good advantage in scoring chances.

For the Leafs though, they held the Kings to just 36 shot attempts at 5v5 and 63 entry attempts. The Leafs, meanwhile, had 50 and 84. The game mainly took place around Jonathan Quick’s net. Ilya Samsonov got the shutout and to the Kings credit, the few scoring chances they did have they did force Samsonov to make saves, especially on the powerplay. Still, I don’t think there was a sequence where the Kings were all over Samsonov and he had to make two or three good saves in a row.

Finally, the reason this game was so good for Toronto? Puck management. In the first period, the Leafs exited the DZ with control 11 times on 11 attempts. Their defence commit three turnovers all game, their first not coming until midway through the second period. They didn’t let the Kings forecheck pester them. They also avoided costly neutral zone turnovers. The Kings had just three shots in transition, none of them scoring chances (they had 7 shots and 3 chances the first time these teams met).

Now, hockey’s weird. Sometimes you play great, sometimes the opponent plays poorly. Sometimes both things happen and you get a game like this, but they seldom carry onto the next game or period. The Leafs, especially, have had a tendency to follow up performances like this (perhaps because they have more performances like this than most teams) with absolute duds. Since I can see into the future, I know they didn’t at home against Calgary, but they also didn’t have as similar of a dominant game. The Leafs are a good enough team that they can have a performance like this in the right circumstances, but you can’t expect this kind of effort from any team over the course of a season. This is the elusive “60-minute game” that fans love to talk about but rarely happens, because so much has to go right for you and the opponent also has to be off. I’ll put the same amount of stock in this game as I did when they were trounced by Vegas in Vegas and gave up scoring chance after scoring chance.

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