NHL Network and ESPN analyst Kevin Weekes will offer his pluses and minuses for big games each week throughout the season.
The Toronto Maple Leafs and Los Angeles Kings are heading in opposite directions entering their game at Staples Center in Los Angeles on Wednesday (10 p.m. ET; TNT, SNO, NHL LIVE).
Toronto (13-6-1) has won 11 of its past 13 games, including four by shutout. Los Angeles (8-7-3) is 0-2-2 in its past four games, including the first three of a seven-game homestand.
Here’s my breakdown of the game:
Pluses: The big four forwards (Auston Matthews, John Tavares, Mitchell Marner, William Nylander) are playing well. Matthews looks like himself following offseason wrist surgery with 15 points (seven goals, eight assists) in 17 games, Tavares has scored 16 points (eight goals, eight assists) in 19 games, Marner is back to making plays and leads Toronto in scoring with 17 points (six goals, 11 assists) in 20 games, and Nylander (16 points in 20 games) has been the most consistent.
The Maple Leafs’ most valuable player so far, though, has been goalie Jack Campbell. He was 17-3-2 with a 2.15 goals-against average and .921 save percentage in 22 games last season, but he’s been even better this season, going 10-4-1 with a 1.66 GAA, .944 save percentage and three shutouts in 16 games. Backup Joseph Woll made his second NHL start against the New York Islanders on Saturday, making 20 saves in a 3-0 win.
Minuses: The Maple Leafs are driven by five players (including defenseman Morgan Rielly), and when they are going well, the team goes well. When they’re slumping, the team usually is, too. Alexander Kerfoot (11 points) is the only other forward besides those mentioned above who has scored at least 10 points, and Ondrej Kase (five) is the only other forward who has scored at least five goals.
Although they are back to winning after a difficult start, the Maple Leafs still haven’t really become multidimensional in terms of how they win. Often, they’ll win with the offense. They can’t lock down games, but luckily the goaltending has been excellent.
Pluses: After missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs in each of the past three seasons, the Kings have been more competitive this season. That’s been surprising since defensemen Drew Doughty (knee) and Sean Walker (torn ACL and MCL) are injured. The defensemen and goalies have stepped up, though. After a few down seasons, Jonathan Quick is 4-4-2 with a 1.88 GAA and .939 save percentage, responding well to the challenge of Cal Petersen for playing time.
Anze Kopitar continues to be one of the most underrated players in the NHL. The center does everything offensively and defensively, takes face-offs, and plays in all situations. The addition of center Phillip Danault has helped lift some of the burden off Kopitar, since he does all of the things Kopitar does, minus the scoring.
Minuses: The Kings have been an extremely streaky team. Following a 6-2 win against the Vegas Golden Knights in their season opener, they went 0-5-1 in their next six games. Los Angeles then won seven in a row prior to its current four-game skid. The good news is that three of those losses were decided by one goal, and the other was tied with less than four minutes left in the third.
The Kings special teams could use improving. Entering play Wednesday, they ranked 24th in the NHL on the penalty kill (77.8) and power play (15.9). They also haven’t improved their scoring (2.56 goals per game) after finishing 27th in the League last season (2.54). And it’s hard when you have only three players who have contributed to the offense in Kopitar (17 points) and forwards Alex Iafallo (13 points) and Adrian Kempe (11 points).
THREE THINGS TO WATCH
1. Who matches up with Matthews’ line?
2. Where will offense come from for Kings?
3. Will Woll get his second straight start?