Kings get back to defensive roots in win over Maple Leafs
The Los Angeles Kings can breathe a sigh of relief: Darryl Sutter’s team is back to playing Kings hockey.
A 2-0 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Monday at the Staples Center wasn’t necessarily a banner win, but it snapped a dismal stretch in which the team has gone 2-1-2 in the last five games. Having been streaky all season, the team has tried everything to break out of its funk.
But all it really took was playing the game that they’re known for — a fundamental defensive style of play.
"We’re a physical team, that’s how we wear other teams down," defenseman Drew Doughty said. "We hit hard on forecheck and when the other team is in our zone we make it miserable for them to be down there. We did a better job of that tonight, but I still think we’ve got some room for improvement."
The Kings have been wildly inconsistent for the last two weeks. And there have been other periods over the course of the season as well where the team has gotten away from the structure they typically play. Monday night looked more characteristic with strong possession play and hard checking.
"With that run-and-gun style, we were losing games, 5-4 games," Doughty said. "This is how the Kings win games and how we’ve won two Stanley Cups in the past."
The Maple Leafs had 19 shots and Martin Jones stopped all of them. It was the first shutout Dec. 4 and only the fourth of the season.
"We did a great job of checking all night," Jones said. "The penalty kill was really good for us when we needed it, and the guys did a really good job around the net. You put those things together, and we are a tough team to beat."
Jones’ job was made a little easier as the Leafs struggled to keep the puck in the offensive zone.
"We are not letting them be down in our zone. When they are down there, we are pinning them, creating turnovers, blocking shots, and making big hits," Doughty said. "For the most part we are just trying to keep control of the puck, and keep it in their zone. We want to get a cycle going and get shots to the net. When we have the puck they can’t be down there."
Finally, the Kings got a few breaks. Anze Kopitar’s goal was reviewed and the Kings made it stand until an empty net goal late in the third. The Kings did the little things right which is exactly what they need to do when the offense is lacking the two top scorers in Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli.
In their absence, the Kings relied heavily in their first three lines. Kyle Clifford, the only regular on the fourth line Monday night, played with Jordan Nolan and Andy Andreoff. Clifford picked up a fighting major to take him off the ice for five but neither of his two linemates played more than nine minutes.
L.A. is back in sole possession of second place in the Pacific Division, 10 points behind Anaheim. The Kings are typically good at suppressing shots and without the firepower of Pearson and Toffoli, there’s a dire need for it.
"You have to keep the puck out of your zone and get the puck out of your zone as quick as you can. That’s hard," Sutter said. "We’re going to have to get better at it because with the goals out of the lineup, and a bit of inexperience at our back end we still have to find a way to get better."
The emphasis is firmly back on playing their own defensive brand of hockey.