By DAVID SHOALTS
Tuesday, October 16, 2018
TORONTO -- All of the hockey omens were lined up against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Monday night.
They were playing at home for the first time after a long, successful (4-0) road trip, usually when the local heroes lay an egg.
The visiting Los Angeles Kings had been laying in wait in Toronto for two days and had something to prove after a thumping from the Ottawa Senators last Saturday.
The Leafs also had to give backup goaltender Garret Sparks his second start of the NHL season ahead of schedule because No. 1 man Frederik Andersen stayed home with a knee injury.
Andersen was present at the game-day skate but Sparks was manning the traditional starter's net in the morning session, although the Leafs did not say anything about an injury.
That came later in the afternoon with a news release that Eamon McAdam was an emergency call-up from the Newfoundland Growlers, the Leafs' ECHL team.
Andersen's status is day-to-day and the Leafs have two days off before they face Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins at home on Thursday.
The Leafs had to reach down to their secondary farm team for a goalie because the Toronto Marlies' top goaltender, Kasimir Kaskisuo, is injured and backup Jeff Glass is only signed to an American Hockey League contract.
Add it all up and the stars were not aligned for the Leafs. But this is shaping up as a season far from the ordinary and the Leafs shook off a lull in the second period to cruise to a 4-1 win. Their record is now 6-1, good enough for first place in both the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference.
The Leafs made short work of the portents, as they scored in the first minute on Kings goaltender Jack Campbell - who did not have a great evening - extended the lead to 2-0 with a goal in the last minute of the first period and took a 3-1 lead into the third. Kasperi Kapanen scored the first goal, Patrick Marleau had the second with his first goal of the season and Mitch Marner had the third one. Then Kapanen and Auston Matthews turned Kings defenceman Drew Doughty inside-out on a brilliant twoon-one in the third period for Kapanen's second goal of the game.
Matthews assisted on both goals to run up his points total to 16 in seven games. Ilya Kovalchuk scored for the Kings.
It was just the start the Leafs were looking for to shake off any leftover travel fatigue.
"We want to get off to a good start, especially against a good team like LA," Matthews said after the morning skate. "It's our house. We want to make sure it's tough in our building."
Campbell certainly found it tough. Kapanen scored 46 seconds into the game when his shot from behind net hit Campbell and bounced into the net.
Marleau scored with 22 seconds left in the first period when he froze Campbell with a fake and then swept the puck through the crease and into the net.
The goal brought the Leafs' power-play success rate to an astounding 47.4 per cent over seven games. They were also sharp in killing penalties, although the Kings have been futile in that regard since the start of the season.
When Marner took back-toback slashing penalties in the second period, the Leafs killed off both of them plus one to Frédérik Gauthier early in the third.
That brought the Kings' power play record to an embarrassing 0-for-21 in six games.
While the Marner penalties led to an extended stay in the Leafs' zone by the Kings through most of the second period, Sparks held them off. His confidence appeared to grow as the game went on and by the end of the second period, when the Kings held a 24-18 edge in shots, Sparks, 25, was flashing the leather like an NHL veteran.
Matthews wasn't the only one strutting his stuff from among the four Leafs who went into the game leading the NHL scoring race. Marner and linemate John Tavares combined with left winger Zach Hyman for a nifty goal at 8:32 of the second period.
Before the game, Hyman was asked why the line was so successful in the early going. He said it was because they all knew their jobs, his being the heavy lifting in the corners.
"Every game we want to get better as a line. We know our strengths and we all try to complement each other," Hyman said. "For me, it's doing the things I'm successful at, going to the corners, battling, trying to get the puck back for Mitch and John and let them do their thing."
But this time Hyman elected to try some fancy hockey, stickhandling the puck around two Kings defencemen in the slot.
Then he flipped it to Tavares, who found Marner alone in the crease for an easy goal.
Maple Leafs centre Auston Matthews skates between L.A. Kings forwards Alex Iafallo and Anze Kopitar during first period action at Toronto's Scotiabank Arena on Monday.
NATHAN DENETTE/THE CANADIAN PRESS