TORONTO – Joffrey Lupul in. Dion Phaneuf out.
Another one step forward, two back for the Toronto Maple Leafs, who have just two regulation wins in their last 17 outings.
Lupul was slated to return Wednesday against the surging Los Angeles Kings (20-7-4) while Leafs captain Phaneuf sat out the first half of a two-game suspension.
Was it frustrating, Toronto coach Randy Carlyle was asked after his team’s morning skate.
“You think?” Carlyle responded dryly.
“It’s one of the things you have to deal with and we’ve had our fair share of controversy and not a stable lineup. But again I focus on the players that you control and focus on the players that are players versus the ones that aren’t.”
Lupul, who has missed the last seven games, didn’t mince words in his assessment of the Leafs’ recent play.
“To put it bluntly, we’re not playing very well,” he said. “We’re not playing how we would like and we’re giving up too many chances and probably not creating enough.
“We’ve talked about some things. Penalties are killing us, we’ve noticed that a lot when we watch games so were going to try and stay out of the box and give our penalty kill a little break, give our goalies a little break.”
Toronto (16-12-3) has given up four power-play goals in the last two games and ranks 26th on the penalty kill.
In the Kings, the Leafs face a team on a four-game win streak whose road record (10-3-2) is actually better than their home record (10-4-2). Los Angeles comes into the game on the back of a 6-0 win in Montreal.
“The L.A. hockey club is a big, strong cycling team,” said Carlyle, no stranger to the Kings thanks to his time in Anaheim. “They don’t give you much. And anything you get, you have to earn. They’re big guys, they’ve got strength down the middle with (Anze) Kopitar, with (Mike) Richards, with (Jarret) Stoll. I don’t know if there’s anybody that has three centres of that calibre.”
All signs pointed to former King Jonathan Bernier starting in goal for the Leafs against Los Angeles newcomer Martin Jones.
It would mark the fourth straight start for the 23-year-old from North Vancouver, who is the first Kings rookie to post back-to-back shutouts since Gerry Desjardins in 1968-69.
Jones goes into the Toronto game with a 3-0-0 record, .973 save percentage and 0.65 goals-against average. He has stopped 73 of 75 shots and hasn’t been beaten in 137 minutes 46 seconds.
“You don’t sense any nervousness from him, which I think is the most impressive thing for me,” said Kings captain Dustin Brown.
With Jones expected to start, former Leaf Ben Scrivens will have to watch from the bench.
“Welcome home,” a Toronto reporter said to Scrivens, who reminded him he was actually from Alberta.
“Jonesy’s done a great job for us—back-to-back shutouts in his second and third career games, that’s outstanding,” Scrivens said sportingly.
Defenceman Cody Franson paired up with Carl Gunnarsson at the morning skate, filling in for Phaneuf who was suspended by his Sunday night hit on Boston defenceman Kevan Miller.