The same old California.
Visits to three of the worst teams in the NHL has to this point proven to be just as difficult as yesteryear, as the Toronto Maple Leafs fell 1-0 in a shootout to the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday night. The Leafs have now collected just one of four possible points on the road trip after losing two nights ago in San Jose, but remain five points up on the Florida Panthers after they lost in overtime to the Boston Bruins earlier.
Toronto will complete the trip in Anaheim on Friday night in the second half of another back-to-back.
Until then, three points:
The biggest thing
A break in the schedule and some sunny weather before entering the final push of the regular season, the Leafs used up perhaps their one final chance to optimize a start for their No. 1 netminder.
Selected for only one of three games on the trip and dressing on four full days of rest following last weekend’s win over Vancouver, Frederik Andersen was afforded every opportunity to be at his best versus the Kings.
And for all intents and purposes, he was. Unfairly saddled with the loss after being outpointed by Jonathan Quick in the shootout, Andersen still earns credit for a shutout having stopped all 30 shots faced through regulation and overtime.
While Andersen had won three straight games coming in, his performances in those outings lacked the same polish that he showed versus the Kings. And while he won’t have ideal circumstances in his remaining starts down the stretch, the confidence he should take from the game should help him continue rounding out his game heading into the final four weeks of the regular season.
Earning a point to keep pace with Florida is obviously important, but if this outing helps launch Andersen into a run of improved form down the stretch, it will pale in comparison.
The Sidney Crosby of 3-on-4
In the win over Vancouver last week, Auston Matthews delivered a post-game punchline, calling Zach Hyman the “Sidney Crosby of 6-on-5” after his linemate slid in another empty-net goal to pad his career-season total.
Well it turns out there’s more than one unique condition he specializes in.
Hyman delivered the highlight of the entire game after John Tavares took a penalty on the first shift of overtime, providing the best 20 seconds of penalty killing you’ve probably seen all season.
(No, you’re right, it was not the most thrilling game).
The Engvall thing
In the absence of Andreas Johnsson and Ilya Mikheyev, it might not be completely off-base to suggest that the key to unlocking the potential of the forwards is finding a home for Pierre Engvall.
For that reason it was somewhat encouraging to see that Engvall, currently mired in a horrific production drought, had been bumped up to the second line to start the game with Tavares and Nylander. While he might not be the perfect fit, the bottom six had been sorely lacking in recent games. In the absence of great facilitation with the aforementioned duo (which he hadn’t offered), it seemed as though Alexander Kerfoot needed to be removed from Tavares and Nylander’s wing to bring some balance to the lineup in the third-line centre position. Engvall’s promotion allowed for that.
And yet, after only a handful of shifts, Engvall was seemingly unfairly replaced by Denis Malgin on the second line and sent back down into a fourth-line function. Now it could have been more about Malgin, who only seems to offer any value when playing with plus linemates, but the quick hook seemed to once again diminish Engvall’s influence.
It seems like Sheldon Keefe has been constantly tinkering with his combinations to try to find the right mix with his bottom three lines, only to fail to this point.
If Engvall is best used in a third-line wing slot, locking him in, and from there building out the rest, might be the quickest way to achieving a measure of optimization.
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