Leafs hope Hotel California is hospitable — Toronto Sun

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Leafs hope Hotel California is hospitable — Toronto Sun

California could indeed be the Land of Milk and Honey for the Maple Leafs.

Rarely have the state’s three NHL teams been this bad simultaneously, a combined 38 games under .500 before Sunday and well out of playoff contention. Now, here come the Leafs this week into the Pacific theatre, on a three-game win streak and looking to bolster their current five-point lead as third seed in the Atlantic Division.

But these are the mercurial Leafs were talking about, a team that has seemed safely on its way up many times this season only to veer badly off course. And there are rarely gimmies in the NHL, never mind expecting three in four nights. San Jose, the first stop on Tuesday, just shut out Pittsburgh 5-0.

“We have to win our games there,” coach Sheldon Keefe said. “It will be important for us to take this week (after beating playoff contenders Tampa Bay, Florida and Vancouver), feel good about it. We’re going against teams that when you look at the standings you think there’s real opportunity there for us. But we’ve been watching those teams, they’re playing good hockey and beating good teams.

“We’ve done pretty well on the road (a record of 18-14-1) and the sun seems to work in our favour.”

The Leafs under predecessor Mike Babcock also did well in California last year, sweeping all three, but that had only happened one other time for Toronto since San Jose and Anaheim joined Los Angeles in that NHL market in the 1990s. There’s a Kings-Ducks back-to-back later this week to complete the Leafs trip with Kyle Clifford and Jack Campbell returning to L.A. for the first time since last month’s trade. Keefe could let Campbell start in goal against his old team and have Frederik Andersen against his former Anaheim club the next night.

Thankfully for team morale, falling further in the rearview mirror is last Saturday’s loss to Carolina and 42-year-old fill-in goalie David Ayres.

“I’ve learned just what we’re capable of when we’re going about it properly with our preparation, habits and work ethic,” said Keefe of what has ensued since that stinging defeat. “We weren’t as sharp (against Vancouver) as we were on the road but, once again, it was finding our way through it and we stayed with it.”

Defenceman Cody Ceci will be on this trip to continue working through his ankle injury. He should be the first of three injured rearguards along with Morgan Rielly and Jake Muzzin to return.

Meanwhile, Tyson Barrie, Travis Dermott and even Martin Marincin showed enough offensive chops on Saturday to take the focus off the club’s defensive concerns.

“We know what we have to do to have the rest of the season (16 games) go the way we want,” said Dermott. “We’re getting on the right track now, we have some momentum, we just have to ride it. We’re heading into grind time, we’ll try and get three wins and see where it goes from there.”

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