Toronto - December 14, 2014 - The Leafs played a defining game in a Sunday matinee game against the Los Angeles Kings. The Leafs, having played the night before battled every period against the Kings, and came out on top in the shootout 4-3. This has to be the most impressive win of the Leafs’ season. This was a game that everyone would have been okay with the Leafs losing, assuming they just looked like they were trying. The Leafs not only competed hard, but came back after giving up three straight goals in 5:04 across the end of the second period and beginning of the third. Their resolve and ability to hang with the Kings has been something the Leafs have not had for years. A very impressive performance.
The first period served as a pleasant surprise as the Leafs came out with energy, just 17 hours after beating Detroit. They looked sharp and on their game, making great passes and creating lots of scoring chances. Throughout the game, the second line of Winnik - Kadri - Santorelli continued their high level of play, as they scored both goals in the first period for the Leafs. Both goals came off a great forecheck with excellent puck movement and cycling in the offensive zone.
The first goal was scored by Mike Santorelli, as after a great shift of cycling the puck, he came out from behind the net and roofed the puck on Kings goalie Jonathan Quick. The second goal was a point shot from Cody Franson, who continues to make the case for a large contract this offseason. Both goals were testaments to new emphasis the team has on possession. The fact that the Leafs were able to turn around 17 hours after a Saturday night game and end the first period beating the LA Kings 2-0 really is impressive. A great demonstration of the growth this team has undergone.
The second period was a competitive one, with both teams creating chances for the entirety of the period. However with four minutes to go in the period, Justin Williams had the puck bounce his way, as he swatted a puck past James Reimer. The Kings were fortunate as the referees did not call a high stick on Jake Gardiner, which would have negated the Williams’ goal. A fortunate missed call for Los Angeles. Three and a half minutes after Williams’ goal, Dwight King managed to squeak the puck past Reimer as he failed to hug the post tight enough. The game went into the second intermission tied at 2.
One minute into the third period, Justin Williams slid a pass across the crease and found Marian Gaborik who put the puck past Reimer on his second attempt, bring the score to 3-2 for the Kings. Seven minutes later the Kings took a high-sticking penalty and the Leafs found themselves on the powerplay. Just eight seconds into the powerplay after some quick passes, James van Riemsdyk scored to level the score. The score would remain tied through the remainder of the third period and overtime, despite a number of great chances for both teams. The game would have to be decided in a shootout.
Sometimes in the shootout all you need is one, and for the Leafs it came from their first shooter Joffrey Lupul. Lupul carried the puck out wide to his left, and brought it into the slot and let a cannon wrist shot go, beating Quick high over the glove. After that both Bozak and Santorelli would miss, but it didn’t matter as Reimer blanked the Kings on all three attempts.
There were a lot of stand outs for the Leafs. Santorelli, Kadri, Winnik, and Reimer all played fantastic games, as did many of the Leafs. The most impressive aspect of this game though has to be how the Leafs performed. They dug deep, stuck to their assignments and created great scoring opportunities. This was the performance of a team who could win in the playoffs, of a team that could make the playoffs. That being said, if they do want to make the playoffs the first line needs to improve. Nobody on the Leafs played a great game in terms of possession numbers, but the first line was atrocious, as all three finished under 25% in Corsi For.
This was a great win for the Leafs, and one they can draw from as the months of December and January feature a cruel amount of games on the road. Leaf fans can take pride in how the boys in blue and white performed. Their next game is Tuesday night in Toronto as the high flying Anaheim Ducks come into town.
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