The Toronto Maple Leafs have won a number of games they probably didn't deserve to win. So it was just a little strange to see a reversal of form Wednesday night when the Maple Leafs outplayed and outshot the visiting Los Angeles Kings only to lose a 3-1 decision.
The Toronto Maple Leafs have won a number of games in which they were outplayed and outshot this season thanks to some quality goaltending -- games they otherwise probably didn't deserve to win.
So it was just a little strange to see a reversal of form Wednesday night when the Maple Leafs outplayed and outshot the visiting Los Angeles Kings only to lose a 3-1 decision.
On many nights this season Toronto coach Randy Carlyle spoke after a victory and cautioned that unless his team paid greater attention to defensive details, their winning ways would not continue. His words rang true as the Maple Leafs dropped five in a row between Nov. 25 and Dec. 3. After a pair of wins, they have now dropped two straight and Toronto's schedule from hell continues Thursday with a road game in St. Louis followed by a home encounter with the Chicago Blackhawks Saturday night (CBC, CBCSports.ca at 6:30 p.m. ET) and then another road game against the Penguins Monday.
Following the loss to the Kings, Carlyle was complementary of his team's effort.
"It's amazing, isn't it?" Carlyle said. "That's the thing about pro sports; there's always something that makes you shake your head. It was by far our best effort in the last couple of months and we get no reward for it. We have to use it as a starting point. The one thing about tonight that we have asked, and have been pleading for and demanding, from the defensive side of it we had to work as hard on the back-check versus the fore-check."
The Maple Leafs outshot the Kings 39-23; the first time they have done that to an opponent in 13 games.
Carlyle said if his team continues to apply that type of work ethic he believes the Maple leafs will win their share of games.
"It was probably the best game we have played so far," said defenceman Cody Franson. "There are games that you lose when you don't play the way that is necessary to win and those are tough losses, but we did a lot of things that we can build on tonight."
Carlyle was not pleased with an ill-timed pinch by veteran defenceman Paul Ranger that led to the winning goal at 9:40 of the third period. Ranger tried to keep the puck in the Kings' zone, but failed and that allowed the visitors to break away three-on-one. Jeff Carter carried the puck into the Toronto zone and snapped a shot between goalie Jonathan Bernier's legs.
"Bad decision," Carlyle said. "We had three guys at the net and in a 1-1 hockey game with 10 minutes left, it's an ill-advised pinch. It is mistakes like that that end up costing you."
Kings of the first period
The Kings have now gone 17 straight games without allowing a first period goal. While the Maple Leafs outshot Los Angeles 11-8, the Kings took a 1-0 lead. Actually on this night, the Kings were outplayed in the opening 20 minutes. Toronto's Nikolai Kulemin had two glorious chances in tight, but failed to convert while Nazem Kadri slammed a rebound toward the Los Angeles goal, but couldn't beat Martin Jones.
Toronto sniper Phil Kessel singlehandedly could have put the game out of reach for his side in the second period, but he was unable to pull the trigger. Early in the period he raced past Kings defenceman Robyn Regehr and in alone, but failed on his attempt to beat Jones through the five-hole. Eight minutes late he found himself in alone again, but couldn't connect on his attempted backhand shot. Kessel had a glorious chance to tie it with just over two minutes remaining in the third period after he took a pass from James van Riemsdyk, but again he missed.
Franson finally finds net
Franson leads all Toronto defenders in points, but had yet to score a goal until Wednesday night. With the Kings playing two men short, Franson took a pass from Kessel and snapped a shot home.
Left-winger Joffrey Lupul, who missed seven games with a sore groin, returned to the lineup and didn't look out of place. He came close to scoring a goal in the second period when the Maple Leafs, on the power play, worked the puck to the net. It came in Lupul's direction and he had an open net to shoot at, but could not corral the bouncing puck.
"With Lupes, it's always with guarded optimism because he has been able to come back and then get hurt ... come back and then get hurt," Carlyle said. "We're with crossed fingers that he can maintain it."
Lupul played 18:35 and had four shots on goal.
After three games as a healthy scratch, 19-year-old defenceman Morgan Rielly drew back into the lineup and played a solid game. He was paired with fellow young defender Jake Gardiner and displayed his fine skating and puck skills.
Former Leafs sit
Goalie Ben Scrivens and right-winger Matt Frattin, who were traded to Los Angeles for goalie Jonathan Bernier, did not play against the Maple Leafs Thursday. Scrivens has played superbly this season, but has been on the bench for the Kings past four games. Scrivens, who is an unrestricted free agent next summer, has a 7-2-4 record with a league-leading .943 save percentage and a 1.56 goals-against average. He also has three shutouts. The Kings elected to start Martin Jones who is 3-0-0 and has two shutouts.
Frattin, meanwhile, was a healthy scratch and seems to be in Kings coach Darryl Sutter's doghouse. He has two goals and six points in 25 games and is minus-7.
Mike BrophyMike Brophy brings a wealth of hockey writing and broadcasting experience to CBC Sports, having covered junior hockey for 14 years before joining The Hockey News as its senior writer for 17 years starting in 1992. Most recently, the Burlington, Ont., native worked as a writer/commentator at Rogers Sportsnet and as co-host of The Power Play on SiriusXM. Mike has written four books, including My First Goal, featuring 50 players describing their first NHL goals.