Mike Babcock delighted to see Maple Leafs tested by Kings

We’ll share points after every game throughout the Toronto Maple Leafs season.

It wasn’t even remotely convincing for the second straight outing, but the Toronto Maple Leafs did manage to come away with another victory, anyway.

Foiled for the first 50 minutes versus the visiting Los Angeles Kings, Toronto finally broke through late in the third period on goals scored 30 seconds apart from Auston Matthews and William Nylander to secure a 3-1 victory and improve to 8-5-3 on the season.

A much tougher Western Conference test awaits Thursday with the Vegas Golden Knights passing through Scotiabank Arena.

Until then, four points.

First Point: A Picasso?

“It was beeeeeautiful.”

Delight was not the feeling most expected Mike Babcock to exhibit after the Maple Leafs managed to avoid what could have been an ugly loss to the Kings with those two late goals.

But it didn’t seem as though he would have changed a single thing about the matchup most Leafs fans won’t be able to wipe from their memories soon enough.

Rewarded in the end for their patience against a Kings team that defended diligently, Babcock believes his team should have learned something valuable.

Which is: “Do things right, don’t cheat, and you will be rewarded in the end.”

There probably is reason to be concerned about the Maple Leafs’ inability to break down an inferior opponent and relying so heavily on their netminder again to avoid a loss, but when a lesson comes in tandem with two points, it’s welcomed.

“We need to go through that. We need to figure out who we are, and the harder the game is for us the better it is. Would you like to win by a touchdown and everyone relaxes and all that? Yeah, but we’re not getting anywhere like that. This is important to do,” Babcock said.

“You give up one goal, you play well without the puck, goalie makes some saves, we didn’t win it on special teams, we had to grind.

“It was good for us.”

And them only.

It wasn't pretty, but the Leafs' win was exactly how Mike Babcock liked it. (Photo by Kevin Sousa/NHLI via Getty Images)

Second Point: Cut it loose

Aside from a booming hit from Jeff Carter on Alexander Kerfoot, there was almost nothing stimulating about from the first two periods between the Leafs and Kings.

Unless you’re huge into clean zone exits.

Skating in his third game of the season after a six-month rehabilitation following off-season shoulder surgery, Travis Dermott looked as comfortable as he’s been in the win over Los Angeles, showing all the different ways he can neutralize an oncoming forecheck.

Twisting, turning, using head and body fakes to fool forecheckers, Dermott cut it loose from his third-pairing position with Justin Holl, moving the puck out of the zone more effectively tonight than any Leafs defender.

Here’s an example of his work, which actually included a zone entry, as well.

Dermott mentioned following a practice this week that he’s been trying to ease back into the lineup, and not trying to do too much. It seemed in this game that he was comfortable enough to not just lean on maybe the simple option, but to try and create.

While it yielded mostly positive results, a significant portion of the albeit few chances Los Angeles did create at 5-on-5 came with Dermott on the ice, which Babcock was quick to point out when asked for an assessment.

“You can’t have chances. That’s the key,” Babcock said.

Still, this seemed like an obvious step. And while being better and better with every game as Dermott has seems simple enough, and frankly really not all that much to ask, it’s not always that easy, as Jake Muzzin pointed out.

“Just from past experiences, when you come back after an injury like that, you play really good your first game and then you take a step back,” Muzzin said. “I think he’s done a nice job of being consistent.”

Third Point: Possession Petan

If promoting Nic Petan from the top line with the Toronto Marlies to left wing with John Tavares and Mitch Marner was an instance of showcasing a potential trade chip, he might have the attention of some data analysts.

While a non-factor on the scoresheet, Petan had quite a positive influence on the game, finishing at 71 per cent possession with 75 per cent actual shot share that led all Leafs skaters.

Of course, it’s believed that Petan’s dominant weekend with the Marlies, where he scored twice and totalled five points, was the reason for the renewed interest, at least on the part of the Maple Leafs.

it’ll be interesting to see if Petan is given another chance to demonstrate his abilities before Zach Hyman returns, and he simply falls victim to the numbers game in Toronto.

“There’s not going to be a lot of opportunity,” Babcock admitted.

Fourth Point: Deep appreciation

There tends to be a different feel when a recently accomplished team takes up ownership inside Scotiabank Arena’s visitor’s dressing room. But despite being only a half decade removed from their stretch of dominance, the overwhelming sense of relief and accomplishment that the St. Louis Blues and Washington Capitals have recently demonstrated inside those walls seems to have now worn off for the Kings.

But what was discernible inside and outside the temporary digs for Los Angeles was the deep amount of respect they have developed between one another.

And that hasn’t changed for Muzzin because he’s switched teams.

Tonight was Muzzin’s first game versus Los Angeles since his trade last winter, which offered the first chance for the Kings to gush about their former teammate, and for their former teammate to gush about them.

“I just miss hanging out with him. He’s a great guy. I’ve know him basically since I was nine years old, so we go way back,” Drew Doughty said, before breaking up the sentimentality by pointing out that he’s a far superior golfer.

“I miss his family, and obviously miss him in the room and on the ice and everything.”

Favourable scheduling saw the Kings arrive in Toronto early, allowing for some to reconnect with Muzzin over dinner.

If they had friendly fire to trade, they got it all out at the table.

“As a young guy coming up I was obviously nervous. But to watch him go about having fun on the ice, and enjoying it, it helped me when I was younger,” Muzzin said, detailing what he learned from his former partner Doughty.

While sentimental in his own way, but maybe more so illustrating the defeated nature within the Kings, Anze Kopitar offered this when asked if he was looking forward to finally seeing Muzzin on the other side.

“I’d rather have him on ours.”

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