Los Angeles Kings mascot, a regal lion named Bailey, brought out a leaf blower at the end of Monday’s match-up to celebrate LA’s win against the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs. The Kings started goaltender Martin Jones who stopped 19 out of 19 shots to help LA earn the two points they needed to overtake both Vancouver and San Jose in the Pacific Division by one point. The last time the Leafs and Kings met up this season in mid-December, Toronto got the last word, winning 4-3 in a decisive shootout.
Los Angeles struck early into the period, Anze Kopitar scored only 37 seconds into the game on a goal that snuck just under the cross-bar. Kopitar was assisted by Drew Doughty and Jeff Carter. The goal was initially waved off and play continued, but it was later reviewed and called a good goal, giving LA a 1-0 lead. A one goal lead was good enough to get the Kings through the game as they relied heavily on Jones to keep their team ahead. The Kings’ 1-0 lead lasted until the last minute of the game, when Leafs netminder, Jonathan Bernier, left the net and Marian Gaborik scored into the empty goal. Bernier only allowed one goal and made 18 saves in his start against his former team, but couldn’t secure the win. On the other end of the ice, Jones’ shut out was the third of the year.
It was a close match, and both teams played a heavily physical game, combining for a total of 71 hits. It has been a frustrating few games for the Kings, who are four games into a seven game home stand. The Kings’ frustration was reflected in the rougher than usual play. It was a hard-fought win for the LA Kings, who are without key players Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli. Pearson is sidelined with a fractured fibula and is considered to be out indefinitely, while Toffoli is out with a case of mononucleosis.
For a brief moment, the Kings thought they might have also lost Slovenian centerman, Kopitar, in the third after he was hit by a puck coming off the stick of Leafs captain, Dion Phaneuf. Kopitar returned to the ice after a few minutes however, and continued to play, much to the relief of the Kings organization and its fans. The Maple Leafs, however, were not as lucky. Leo Komarov left the game in the second period after taking a hit into the boards and did not return to the ice in the third.
Arguably, this win was crucial for the Kings. Shutout or no shutout, it was time for LA to start turning things around. There have been frustrating losses and it has felt like a slump for a usually more consistent group. They fell 7-6 in overtime against the Nashville Predators, lost 4-3 to the New York Rangers in a much anticipated match-up, and suffered an 5-4 OT loss to the Winnipeg Jets all back to back and in one home stand. Forcing games into OT or shootouts to at least come away with one-point is vital in what is sure to be a tight race to even get into the play-offs, but the Kings need to start getting two instead of one if they want to make a run at the Anaheim Ducks and stay comfortably ahead of the other teams in the Pacific Division.
Injuries are tough for any team, but even with Pearson and Toffoli and head coach Darryl Sutter needing shuffle around the lines, LA needs to find a way to win.
LA is coasting. Of course, in the past, the Kings have made it all the way to hockey’s grand prize by playing a mediocre regular season, but with Vancouver, San Jose, and Calgary not far behind and Winnipeg as a contender in the wild card race, coasting may not be the best idea. The season has been full of surprises, the last thing the Kings want is for one of those surprises to be an early summer for their organization.