It might be a toss-up which team is more motivated to turn the early season around when the Los Angeles Kings host the Toronto Maple Leafs Saturday afternoon.
The Kings are coming off of a 6-4 loss to the visiting Winnipeg Jets Thursday night. Los Angeles surged to a 3-1 lead and a 16-1 shot advantage in the first period but couldn’t sustain their momentum.
The Maple Leafs will be trying to bounce back from a 4-3 overtime loss at the San Jose Sharks on Thursday, in which they battled back from a two-goal deficit late in the second period only to lose their second straight road game.
The Sharks had lost seven of nine to start the season. Toronto has also lost to the Montreal Canadiens and Arizona Coyotes this season, among the weakest in the NHL.
“Guys are frustrated for sure,” Toronto coach Sheldon Keefe said. “Guys want to play the way we are capable of playing. They want it to come together. It hasn’t, but the mood of the group is good. The guys are remaining positive and also pushing each other and challenging one another to get it sorted out.”
Keefe said the Maple Leafs are having difficulty moving the puck from player to player and up the ice, whether it’s passing to the wrong player or holding onto the puck for too long.
“That is a big problem for us,” Keefe said. “Our inability to move the puck up the ice efficiently is slowing down our game on offense and really hurting our game defensively as well. We’re just getting stressed.”
Los Angeles coach Todd McLellan said the Kings have yet to establish an identity. In the loss to the Jets, the game became more wide-open and McLellan said that style doesn’t fit with his personnel.
“How much more evidence do we need that it doesn’t work?” McLellan said after the loss. “Maybe we will become the run-and-gun team. I don’t like our chances, but if that’s how we want to play and that’s what we’re going to keep trying, we’re probably going to keep getting the same results.”
McLellan has been happy with the play of forward Gabriel Vilardi, who scored his team-high sixth goal of the season against the Jets.
McLellan rewarded Vilardi and sent a message to the top line by moving him up with Anze Kopitar and Adrian Kempe late in the game against Winnipeg.
“There are some things going on with Kopi’s line that I’m not happy with and I thought that Gabe needed an opportunity there,” McLellan said. “What we have right now isn’t working, so we’ll have to address it (at practice Friday).
The Kings will need to adjust defensively as well.
Los Angeles has allowed four or more goals in seven of their first nine games this season and an NHL-high 39 goals overall.
“We can’t expect to win many games with giving up six goals,” Kopitar said after the loss to Winnipeg. “Whether we can blame it on the (penalty kill), not scoring on the power play, bad changes, turnovers, whatever, the bottom line is we can’t give up six and think we have a chance to win.”
–Field Level Media