If you're gonna lose, I guess it's better to look good while doing it; the new jerseys for the Los Angeles Kings are very slick. With the Toronto Maple Leafs vising the Kings, it meant just about everyone in Los Angeles that transplanted from Toronto was in attendance. At this point, the Kings "home" games have pretty much turned into road games, since they have no real fans and their crowds almost always are predominantly cheering for their opponents. In any case, this game was a pretty entertaining evening with two struggling franchises squaring off. The Leafs entered the game at 8-9-6, while the Kings came in at 10-9-3.
The Kings came out of the gate hungry, with Alexander Frolov scoring an early goal in the first minute of play, and they kept the pressure on for a majority of the first period. Leafs started to show some signs of life near the end of the first period, but the momentum was heavily in the Kings favor throughout the period. It was kind of funny that throughout the game, the Leafs-majority crowd at the sparsely-populated Staples Center would cheer "go Leafs go" much louder than the "go Kings go" cheers. Other than the early goal, Leafs netminder Vesa Toskala was a fucking brick wall. Kings goalie Jason LaBarbera was not tested early, but stopped all 10 shots he faces in the first period.
Both teams played pretty conservatively through the second, and while the Kings had more shots on goal in the period, the Leafs had the better scoring opportunities. The teams started upping the physical play, with lots of small scuffles after the whistle blew. After a leveling, HUGE hit from Leafs big defenseman Jeff Finger on Kings forward Oscar Moller, Kings center Derek Armstrong came to the rescue. Watch the mediocre fight that ensues between Armstrong and Finger:
The goalies continued to play strong through the third period. Toskala had big saves in the second and the third, with some awesome glove hand saves, while LaBarbara had to deal with several break-aways in the third off of Kings careless defensive mistakes. Here is Toskala flashing some leather in the second period:
12 seconds into the third, the Kings Sean O'Donnell gets called for tripping, which seemed harmless enough at the time. With that penalty coming to a close, the Leafs enter the Kings zone offsides, which was not called, but the tripping penalty seconds later against the Kings Dustin Brown was called. No big deal though since this would mean the Leafs were 5 on 3 for only a mere 13 seconds, right? Sure enough, Leafs Matt Stajan knots the game at 1-1 before the first tripping penalty expired. Here is how that goal unraveled, and I will add LaBarbara had no chance with how crowded the crease was:
Now the Leafs are 5 on 4, with the momentum heavily on their side, and the Staples Center still loud from their fans. Leafs score again on the second power play, off a nice one-timer. It was a textbook pass off the stick of John Mitchell from behind the net, for an easy wrister from Mikhail Grabovski who was on the doorstep of the Kings goal. Once again, little LaBarbara could do, and while I have been pretty critical of him in the past, he played an all but flawless game against the Leafs. Toskala was really put to the test after those two early goals from his team. Kings overall intensity level went through the roof, and they kept on pressuring Toskala to come up with big save after big save. When the Kings defense would occasionally pinch the blue line to add to the attack, it led to Leafs uneven attacks if the puck got loose in the neutral zone, which LaBarbara handled with ease. Strangely enough, the only part of the third that the Kings were not dominating the attack (after those first 2 goals by the Leafs, of course) was when they went on the power play with about 8 minutes left in the game. Kings had tons of opportunities to tie this game up, but just could not get the job done against the quick Toskala. Last ditch effort for the Kings was to pull LaBarbara, but it didn't amount to any real scoring chances as the Leafs defense gave them a tough time dumping the puck in.
For more than half the third period - pretty much after their second goal - the Leafs were just playing not to lose. It worked out for them off the brilliant play of Toskala who ended up stopping 32 out of 33 shots on goal. They Leafs put up a third goal on the empty net, icing the game 3-1. Neither team played a great game, and it would have probably been a lot more interesting for the Leafs fans if their team did not shut down offensively after their early third period goals. But as they say - a win is a win is a win - so if you play ugly and win, you still get the two points.