Toronto Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock gazed up at the scoreboard with 12:54 left in the first period Tuesday night and thought his team was doing alright.
Those thoughts quickly evaporated in what turned out to be Toronto's worst loss of the season, a 7-0 thrashing at the hands of the veteran Los Angeles Kings. The Kings struck for four goals in the second period, outshooting the Leafs 43-19 overall, while out-attempting them 75-38 in all situations.
The Leafs had been riding high after wins over Edmonton (3-2), Buffalo (2-1), and Vancouver (6-3), but Tuesday's outcome quashed that season-long three-game win streak with a thud. Babcock described it as an "embarrassing" defeat.
"As optimistic as everything appears one day and you win three in a row, then you get your lunch fed to you and you're not competitive and not organized and not prepared," he said. "It was a humbling experience for our players and myself here in our building."
One of the younger teams in the league, the Leafs were ultimately schooled by a more veteran opponent, one that's captured the Stanley Cups twice in the past five seasons.
"They taught us a lesson tonight," Toronto forward Nazem Kadri said.
"We're a group that wants to get to that level where we want to be one of the best teams going in this league," added Leafs defenceman Morgan Rielly. "They showed us tonight that we have a long way to go."
Babcock thought his team actually came out okay in the first dozen minutes, though they managed just one shot halfway through the opening frame.
The Kings had the bulk of early chances, scoring 14 minutes into the period on Dustin Brown's second this year. His shot through a maze of moving bodies beat Frederik Andersen with Martin Marincin's exit feed never quite reaching Ben Smith initially along the wall.
The NHL's shot per-game leaders heading into play, Toronto was held to just five shots in the first frame and 19 overall, both season-lows. The Kings are currently the NHL's best in shot suppression, yielding around 25 nightly.
Trailing 1-0, Toronto made a slight push in the opening minutes of the second, but any momentum quickly dulled when the Kings struck for a pair in less than two minutes. Tanner Pearson got the first of two on the same shift that the all-rookie line of Auston Matthews, William Nylander and Zach Hyman controlled play in the Kings zone.
Almost two minutes later, Tyler Toffoli finished off an odd-man rush for the 3-0 lead.
At that point, about five minutes into the period, the Kings had nearly as many goals (three) as the Leafs had shots (six).
Jeff Carter added two more goals for the Kings less than five minutes apart a short while later. The first again saw the visitors march easily into the opposition zone, Carter's shot and goal ending Andersen's night. The 27-year-old was pulled for the first time in his Leafs career after yielding four goals on only 26 shots.
The Kings put three past backup Jhonas Enroth, who has given up 11 goals on 82 shots in his first four games as a Leaf.
Often, the Kings size and strength was just too much for Toronto to handle at both ends of the rink. They floated easily into the Toronto end, scoring off the rush and through a punishing cycle game.
Afterward, Leafs players noted the Kings' ability to make the neutral zone like a swamp, thick and difficult to trudge through, Toronto's comparatively easy. The Leafs fed into the Kings' hands by turning the puck over. Veteran centre Tyler Bozak said it was sometimes a case of trying to make one extra and probably unnecessary play with the puck.
"We didn't do too many things right," he said.
"When they competed and when they played heavy and (when) they won battles we didn't win any battles, we didn't play heavy, we didn't finish any checks, we didn't win any races; they won 'em all," Babcock said. "Give them credit, they were way better than us, way more organized, way more prepared to compete at a high level."
Kings third-stringer Peter Budaj needed just 19 saves for his second consecutive shutout, the Leafs failing to get much going in the offensive zone. Babcock shuffled his lines constantly hoping to find a spark, most notably pairing Matthews, who has just one point in his last seven games, with fellow rookie Mitch Marner. Nylander, the team's leading scorer, was dropped to a fourth line with Matt Martin and Smith and played a season-low 12:06.
Babcock said his team would have to come out to practice Wednesday and "do our penance" before moving forward.
"But you're not just going to get up tomorrow and everything's going to be rosy," he said. "No. We embarrassed ourselves here today."