Here are five takeaways from the Maple Leafs’ 2-1 loss to the Los Angeles Kings Thursday at Staples Center:
Reimer’s return couldn’t have gone much better.
In his first full game since Dec. 3, goalie James Reimer looked outstanding against the Kings, turning aside the first 28 shots he saw Thursday and 39 of 41 L.A. shots on the night. For the second straight game, Toronto was drastically outshot in the opening frame (in this case. 16-6), but Reimer did what he needed to do to keep his teammates in it, and they helped him by minimizing the Kings’ second chances in any given sequence. Reimer hasn’t posted a win since a Nov. 20 victory over Carolina, but if he continues playing as well as he did in his return, the next win should come along any day now.
The biggest change in this year’s Leafs: relentless resilience.
The Leafs were playing their second of back-to-back road games in two nights against very tough Western Conference opponents in Anaheim and L.A., and just as they did against the Ducks, Toronto didn’t back down to the Kings in any sense. Leo Komarov was a physical and psychological force unto himself – let’s just say he likely won’t be partying with Kings star defenseman Drew Doughty in the off-season – and Nazem Kadri was under the skin of fellow centre Jeff Carter for much of the game, while also setting up teammate Peter Holland for the visitor’s first goal of the night at 10:05 of the third frame. The Kings were a handful and finally broke open a scoreless tie with third period goals from Jake Muzzin and Carter, but the Buds continued to come at them the rest of regulation time. You’re not going to win every contest, but seeing Toronto’s players not sag despite finding themselves down a couple goals is a great sign as to their collective spirit and spine at this stage in the season.
Solid showing by a depleted ‘D’.
When veteran blueliner Roman Polak was assessed a five-minute major penalty and game misconduct late in the first period, Toronto’s defense corps went down a man. The remaining crew then stepped up, assumed more of a role in Polak’s absence, and contained one of the biggest, swiftest groups of forwards in the NHL for the grand majority of the game. Matt Hunwick in particular was one of the Leafs’ stronger defensemen, logging 23:03 of ice time (including a team-best 3:29 on the penalty kill). The Buds’ forwards also did a solid job in their own zone, but the showing from the depleted ‘D’ Corps was one of the reasons Toronto nearly extended this game to extra time.
Hard to win when you don’t get pucks on net – especially when that net is minded by Jonathan Quick.
In Toronto’s previous game against L.A. Dec. 19, the Buds shelled goalie Jhonas Enroth in a 5-0 win over the Kings. This time, though, L.A. had superstar Jonathan Quick between the pipes – and this time, the Buds didn’t make his job all that difficult. Toronto failed to reach double-digits in total shots in either of the first two periods, and finished with only 26 shots. Leafs winger Brad Boyes nearly tied the game with three minutes left in the third – and Kadri nearly tied it a minute later – but Quick robbed both of them to preserve the win for the home side. Had the Leafs had worn down Quick a bit earlier in the contest, one of those end-of-game scrambles might’ve had a different result.
Morgan Rielly’s roof is rising.
Rielly had a team-high 26:07 of ice time Thursday. That’s also the most he’s played in a single game in the 2015-16 campaign. Again, some of that had to do with Polak’s ejection, but that’s also more than eight minutes more than the 21-year-old played Wednesday against Anaheim. For Rielly to play so smoothly, especially against the Kings’ waves of skilled forwards, has to make head coach Mike Babcock feel justified in his increased dependence on him.