LOS ANGELES – The way the Toronto Maple Leafs played on Thanksgiving Eve, you’d have to wonder if superfan Justin Bieber had promised them a turducken feast for a win.
Laying down their most decisive victory of the season, the Leafs’ offence shone brighter than the home team’s blindingly silver helmets.
Point Night in the U.S.A.
In defeating the Los Angeles Kings 6-2, 11 Maple Leafs etched their names on a busy scoresheet.
And Matthews notched his first 5-on-5 goal in 10 games, his longest such drought since he was a moustache-free rookie.
“If the chances continue to come, they’re going to drop,” an unflustered Matthews said Tuesday. “So, it’s just matter of time and staying positive. We’re winning games, and that’s all that really matters.”
Since veering the 18-wheeler off the cliff’s edge in Chicago a month ago, Toronto has been on a steady ascent up the mountain.
Winners of 12 of its past 14 games, the holes in Toronto’s game are getting increasingly difficult to magnify.
Such is life on the hottest team in hockey.
“Winning is very fun. It makes a fun atmosphere around the room. Makes the off-days fun. It makes practices fun. When you’re winning, it seems like everybody’s feeling good,” said Jason Spezza, minutes after cranking another vintage clapper off the wing.
“Our team is coming closer together as a group and gained a lot of chemistry through these wins. It creates a belief. We’re winning close games. We’re winning games the right way. Special teams have been good, and that’s usually details. And I think it leads to happy group.”
Jack Campbell, playing at an all-world level, won in an emotional return to L.A. and evened his head-to-head score with mentor Jonathan Quick.
The stingy defence and penalty kill rate top-three league-wide in goals allowed.
And, as Wednesday reminded, they have enough skill to stuff the net.
The Leafs’ six goals and five at even-strength signal their highest totals in any game this season.
Underlying numbers would suggest they were due for a goal-a-palooza like this, and Sheldon Keefe’s practice Tuesday centred around offence — increasing volume at the net, creating screens, hitting a man skating downhill into a shot.
“We’ve been playing good hockey here of late, but I can’t remember the last time we’ve launched a game open like that in terms the goals going in,” said coach Keefe, noticing the positive effects on the bench as everyone munched their cookies.
“Guys get looser. It’s just natural,” he went on. “It’s great for the camaraderie of the group. You got lots of guys scoring on different lines. Guys were really pushing for one there for Nick Ritchie.”
The only defensive sacrifice in this one was shutdown centre David Kämpf, who left the game in the first period and did not return for precautionary reasons.
Rasmus Kupari’s shoulder drilled Kämpf in the head, and the essential third-liner was slow to get up before heading to the dressing room. Kupari was called for a tripping minor, but we’d expect player safety to take a peek.
Kämpf will be further evaluated Thursday.
“It looked to me like direct contact to his head, obviously. So, I hate to see that,” Keefe said. “I don’t know how much intent was there. It looked pretty accidental to me.”
The Maple Leafs’ revenge tour flies next to San Jose, where they’ll take on the Sharks Friday.
“It’s hard when you lose a few to get back in the win column, and we know that. We’ve been there already this year,” Spezza said. “So, we just want to keep the positivity rolling.”
Fox’s Fast 5
• Sean Durzi was being cheered on in his NHL debut by the boys he left behind. The Ontario Reign fired up the Kings game during a team Thanksgiving dinner and got to celebrate the offensive defenceman’s first NHL point, then his first NHL goal:
• King-turned-Leaf-turned-Blue-turned-Leaf Kyle Clifford took warmups in his old barn for funskis. Why did his Toronto sweater number change from 73 to 43?
“It’s my kids birthdays added together,” Clifford explained.
• Kings No. 1 D-man and Team Canada hopeful Drew Doughty (knee) sported a yes-contact sweater Wednesday. Word is, possible to return Saturday versus Ottawa or Tuesday versus Anaheim. Either way, it’ll be weeks ahead of schedule.
• Auston Matthews’ moustache will remain unshaven until the end of the month. He’s raised $142,000 and counting for Movember.
“I feel really humbled with all the support and being able to raise enough money to reach that goal. I’m more than happy to shave it off for a good cause,” Matthews said.
Is there a second moustache in his future?
“I think so, yeah.”
• TimBiebs dropping Nov. 29.
“Maybe he was our good-luck charm tonight,” Matthews said. “Who knows?”
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) November 25, 2021