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NHL: Los Angeles Kings @ Toronto Maple Leafs preview

The Los Angeles Kings and Toronto Maple Leafs face-off at Scotiabank Arena on Friday with each coming off a win in their last game on Wednesday. 

It will be a second meeting between the two this season with the Kings prevailing 4-2 on their home ice in late October during a period when the Maple Leafs were in an early season slump. 

The defeat to the Kings was part of a four-game losing streak for the Leafs, who have since improved substantially and recently went on a five-game winning run which has helped them to a 16-5-6 record which ranks second in the Atlantic Division. 

Los Angeles are also riding high in the Pacific Division currently sitting third with a 14-10-4- record.  

The Leafs are 8-2-3 at home this season and -175 to win against the Kings who are 7-5-2 on the road and +155 to be victorious. 

Leafs' improvement

The Maple Leafs are well-known for their high-octane offence, but with that stuttering to start the season and with injuries to several key members of their blue line, including Morgan Reily, T.J. Brodie, Jake Muzzin and Jordie Benn, they have been forced to focus heavily on the defensive side of their game and it has paid dividends. 

For each of the last six seasons, the Leafs have been in the top ten for most goals scored, coming fourth last season with an average of 3.84 per-game which was helped by a 60-goal season from Auston Matthews, the most ever in a single season by a Maple Leaf. 

This season in comparison, the Leafs are 21st in the NHL for average goals scored per game with 3.07, but their goals conceded is third best in the league at 2.44, considerably less than last season's 3.08 which was 18th.

The Leafs haven't won a playoff series since 2004, and their 55-year wait for a Stanley Cup is the longest drought of all-time. 

To add to their heartache, the Leafs have lost ten series-clinching games in a row since 2013, six of which were winner takes all. 

Their new-found ability to keep the puck out of their net, despite being severely depleted on defence, has led many to believe that the Leafs are evolving positively (7-0-3 in the last ten games) and delivering a style of game which can finally bring them success in the playoffs. They are +850 to win the Stanley Cup this season.

Kings seeking goalie answers

To the contrary, the Kings have gone from conceding 2.88 goals per-game last season (eighth) to 3.59 this season which is a lowly 23rd in the NHL. 

Goaltending has been particularly criticised for the Kings with the duo of Jonathan Quick and Cal Petersen ranking among the weakest in the league. 

36-year-old Quick who won the Stanley Cup with the Kings in 2012 and 2014 has carried the main load in what is the final season of his contract. While he rightly remains a legend of the franchise, his best days are certainly behind him as evidenced by his .888 save-percentage and 3.33 goals-against-average. 

Cal Peterson, 28, signed a three-year, $15-million deal with LA in September 2021 with view to him being the successor to Quick, but his season has been disastrous with only two goalies in the entirety of the league with a worse save percentage than his .868. 

In his third full season with the Kings, Peterson was placed on waivers which he cleared and has been assigned to their AHL farm team in attempt to gain his confidence back. 

Last season, Petersen was 20-14-2 in 37 regular-season games and posted a .895 save percentage and .2.89 GAA as the Kings made the playoffs for the first time in four seasons. 

30-year-old Pheonix Copley will partner Quick against the Leafs. In 31 career NHL games with Washington Capitals and St. Louis Blues, he has a .900 save percentage and 2.98 GAA. 

Marner on fire 

Maple Leafs' forward Mitch Marner will aim to extend his all-time franchise record point streak to 21 games against the Kings. 

The 25-year-old has nine goals and 18 assists during his 20-game run which is the sixth longest in the NHL since 1992/93, and he has recorded a point in 26 of the 27 games the forward has played in this season.

The fourth-overall pick of the Leafs in 2015 leads the Leafs for points with 32 (ten goals, 22 assists) and is +4000 to win the Hart Memorial Trophy as the most valuable player in the NHL. 

Marner is just one of a productive forward core who will aim to heap more misery on the defensively lapse Kings which includes top goal-scorer William Nylander (14 goals, 26 points), Matthews (13 goals, 30 points) and Captain John Tavares (13 goals, 27 points). 

Fiala addition key 

The Kings signed 26-year-old forward Kevin Fiala to a seven-year, $55,125-million contract from the Minnesota Wild in the off-season and his addition has been crucial to keep them well involved in the playoff race (LA King -190 to make playoffs). 

Fiala scored a career high 33 goals and 85 points for the Wild last season and is on course to get close to those excellent numbers again in a Kings uniform with 30 points (nine goals, 21 assists) in 28 games. 

Just behind him is Captain Anze Kopitar who at 35-years-old remains one of the best two-way centres in the league. The Slovenian has 24 points (seven goals, 17 assists) in 28 games.

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