Being the NHL’s second-highest scoring team sounds more than appealing, unless it also entails giving up five more goals than any other club in the league.
Such is the plight of the Kings, who have transitioned from a tight-checking crew that won all but three of the 25 games in which they scored four goals or more last season to a group that just managed to squander a match in which it scored four goals, held a two-goal lead and generally imposed its will on the opposing defense.
Coming off that 6-4 loss to the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday, the Kings will wrap up their homestand by welcoming the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday.
“Thirty of us, because I’m including us as coaches, we’ve got to decide again, and I’ve been saying this for 10 games. Twelve percent of our schedule is gone and we still don’t know how we want to play,” Coach Todd McLellan said. “I would think the experiment of run-and-gun that we’re trying to play, like, how much more evidence do we need that it doesn’t work?”
Even in situations that are typically offensively oriented, such as the power play, McLellan said his group had too frequently abandoned basic tenets of game management. The Kings surrendered a shorthanded goal in Thursday’s loss to Winnipeg and were vulnerable to counterattacks across various situations.
“Our only thought process on the power play is offense. There’s time when there’s risk involved in it, but we don’t play risk at all, we just assume everything’s going to work out fine and it comes back the other way, three times in two power plays,” McLellan said, pointing to such miscues as a major reason the Kings were battling for 60 minutes rather than slamming the door on Winnipeg early.
“If you don’t understand risk, you don’t play risk and you’re not responsible for risk, and that’s what happens,” he added.
McLellan had said after Tuesday’s 4-2 victory over Tampa Bay that it would be important for the Kings to continue to close space, hunt the puck and otherwise be aggressors defensively. Though Winnipeg did not have the puck often, the Jets managed to score a power-play goal and produce efficiently with the limited offensive zone they mustered.
Next up, the Kings (4-5-0, 8 points) confront a team that has been just as strong in the possession game as they have been over the past three seasons, with Toronto and the Kings ranking in the top eight league-wide for Corsi-for percentage and Fenwick-for percentage from 2019-20 to 2021-22.
The key difference was what each club did with the puck. The Kings scored the third-fewest goals of any NHL franchise over that span (omitting the Seattle Kraken, which has only played one season), while the Maple Leafs’ 498 goals were the most in the league over the same stretch.
This season, Toronto (4-3-1, 9 points) has a points percentage just above. 500 and an even goal differential. Center Auston Matthews won the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy as the NHL’s top goal-scorer in each of the past two seasons, as well as its most valuable player award last year, but has just two goals in eight games.
In goal, the Leafs have continued to spin the roulette wheel, parting ways with former King Jack Campbell and opting for a new tandem of Matt Murray and Ilya Samsonov. An injury to Murray has left Samsonov and Erik Kallgren manning the net, each of whom should see a start as Toronto faces the Kings and Ducks in a back-to-back set.
Campbell won’t be the only familiar figure missing from the Toronto lineup. Defenseman Jake Muzzin (neck) and winger Kyle Clifford (shoulder), both of whom hoisted the Stanley Cup with the Kings, will miss the game due to injury. Winger Wayne Simmonds, who began his career with the Kings, is an option for Toronto, having started the year in the minors before dressing for two of the past three games.
Toronto at Kings
When: 7 p.m. Saturday
Where: Crypto.com Arena
TV/Radio: Bally Sports West/IHeartRadio