Season Series: Monday marks the lone clash of the season between the Leafs and Kings. In their only head-to-head meeting last season, Nikolai Kulemin notched a tie-breaking goal in the third period to lift Toronto to a 3-2 win against Los Angeles on Jan. 10 at Staples Center.
Big Story: This interconference matchup at Air Canada Centre features two teams that have struggled to find the win column this month. The Leafs, who dropped their second straight in a 5-3 loss to the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday, have won only twice in seven games this December. The Kings, meanwhile, fell to 2-6-0 this month after an 8-2 loss to the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday – amid reports that Darryl Sutter will soon be hired as the club's new coach.
Kings: Despite their issues offensively, Los Angeles had allowed a respectable 16 goals in its previous seven games leading up to Saturday's game against the Red Wings. But that trend quickly took a turn for the worse, as Detroit's offense clicked on all cylinders in an 8-2 rout of the Kings. Los Angeles fell to 1-2-0 since John Stevens took over on an interim basis for Terry Murray – who was fired on Dec. 12.
With the Kings currently tied for 10th place in the Western Conference, the excitement from a promising offseason has morphed into frustration for Los Angeles and its fans.
"[The offense] has gone from an acute problem to a chronic problem," Stevens told the Los Angeles Times. "We need to figure out ways to fix it. But we can't get away from playing good defense."
Maple Leafs: Toronto has gone six consecutive seasons without a playoff berth, but a scorching start to the season indicated this could finally be the year that streak comes to an end. But now the Leafs find themselves searching for answers after suffering their fourth defeat in five games on Saturday against the Canucks.
Toronto's offense – with seven goals in its last two games – has pulled its weight in that span, but despite the recent return of James Reimer from injury, the team has taken a step back due to costly penalties and ineffective play in net. After Reimer allowed three power-play goals and five overall in Friday's loss at Buffalo, Jonas Gustavsson stopped only 31 of 36 shots Saturday as the Canucks pulled away from the Leafs late in the final period.
"As long as you lose the game you can't be happy," Gustavsson said. "We believe in ourselves. [Our recent losses] have been tight games; we could have won those games. We know we are a good team and we just have to show it."
Who’s Hot: Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul have excelled all season long for the Leafs, and that has continued to hold true as of late, despite Toronto's rough patch in December. Lupul has three goals and three assists during his current six-game point streak, while Kessel has accounted for three goals and four assists in his last six contests.
Injury Report: Mike Richards (upper body) is on IR for Los Angeles, while Willie Mitchell (groin) is probable for Monday's game. … Mike Brown (back), Mike Komisarek (broken arm) and Matthew Lombardi (shoulder) are on IR for the Leafs and are not expected to play.
Stat Pack: The Kings, who rank last in the NHL in goals-per-game (2.12), have scored two goals or less in each of their last 11 contests.
Puck Drop: Toronto's loss on Saturday dropped them into a tie with the Buffalo Sabres for the seventh and eighth spots in the Eastern Conference. The Leafs' strong start to the season has taken a turn for the worse in December, but the club has refused to let it shake their mindset heading into the latter half of the month.
"We're still confident, but you never want to go on a losing skid like that," Tyler Bozak told the Toronto Sun. "It's a long season and things like that are going to happen. We have to find our game and get back on the right track. We have been in a lot of the games that we ended up losing."