Before the Kings and Maple Leafs meet at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Los Angeles will first face off against a strong Montreal Canadiens team at the Bell Centre Tuesday evening.
I can hardly remember the last time the Kings won at the Bell Centre or even Centre Molson. In fact, the Canadiens have won 12 of the last 13 meetings in Montreal since the 1993 Stanley Cup Finals, so needless to say Tuesday night will be a tough game for the Kings especially with the Habs playing so well at the moment.
It is still up in the air as who will start in goal for Los Angeles both nights, but I would suspect that Martin Jones will get the call in Montreal after shutting out the New York Islanders on Saturday night at Staples.
Similar to last season, Darryl Sutter must play Jones as much as possible until Jonathan Quick returns to his crease. Ben Scrivens has been exceptional in the absence of Quick and should serve as backup to Quick for the time being with this current team the way it is, but Jones could prove to be a very valuable trade chip in order for the Kings to make another splash en route to another Cup run. So, a message should go out to all those clubs who missed out on Jonathan Bernier (Calgary, NY Islanders, Edmonton, or Florida) will have another chance to make an offer to land the next upcoming (former) young King goaltender.
On the other side of the wall, the Toronto Maple Leafs will most likely be without captain Dion Phaneuf who will be having a hearing on Tuesday with Brendan Shanahan to discuss the late dangerous boarding play to the turned back of Boston Bruins rookie Kevan Miller. I must say, that with the officials not assessing that as a penalty, is criminal. Then again, most of the officiating in recent seasons has been nothing short of criminal. Although Miller does not seem to be injured as a result of the hit, Phaneuf will probably get at least a couple games. This is also unfortunate because if you go back to the game in Boston on November 9th, Jarome Iginla nailed Mark Fraser head first into the boards from behind and later in the same game, David Clarkson was lined up and drilled elbow to the head into the boards by Dennis Seidenberg. Neither dangerous play was whistled down nor did they garner any attention from the NHL or the disciplinary office. Now, Phaneuf is subject to a suspension for one dangerous play while Boston got away with several dangerous hits that night in November, including several more high checks to the head and upper body which were also not called.
Moreover, I have had enough of all of the guessing and making up rules as the go along. Lord knows that Brendan Shanahan is trying is best and has been somewhat fair since taking over the job. However, the on ice in game officiating has been nothing short of awful and those involved should definitely be reprimanded or even docked pay for all of the poor judgment. Last night's Toronto-Boston game was one of the worst officiated game against both teams that I have seen in a long time and that is clearly unacceptable.
With the inevitable absence of Phaneuf, the Leafs should then go back to Morgan Rielly, who needs to play every night. Pairing Rielly with John-Michael Liles or Cody Franson makes most sense for the youngster against a tough, fore checking team.
This lead to some of the keys of the game against the Kings. For Los Angeles to be successful, if they are able to play their dump and chase style and get the cycle going in the Toronto zone, the Leafs are going to be in some trouble. Toronto is going to have to get a solid defensive effort from all of the forwards to help mend off the Los Angeles puck possession game. The Kings strength is a weakness for the Maple Leafs, who still continue to play soft in its own end. Although the Kings have so much trouble scoring goals, they will still end up with plenty of shots on target.
However, the Kings weakness is also Toronto's strength and that is matching up with a lot of speed up front and some explosive offensive skill. If Phil Kessel, Mason Raymond and perhaps the addition of Joffrey Lupul to the lineup can free up some space against a team that does so well at controlling play in all areas of the ice, then the Kings could end up having a bit of a hard time slowing the Leafs down. Yet again, Los Angeles is similar to Boston in that if the team is not controlling play, they will still find a way to make things go in their favor and if Toronto does not help the situation by staying out of the box and continues to cough the puck up in its own zone, then the Kings should be able to come out on top Wednesday night.
Although it would be interesting to see Jonathan Bernier battle his former teammates and prove Dean Lombardi wrong, I still think James Reimer should be the one in goal Wednesday night and therefore save Bernier for St. Louis Thursday night.
Kings 2, Canadiens 2 (Shootout?)
Kings 3, Maple Leafs 1