ANAHEIM, Calif. – About three weeks after Tomas Kaberle expected it, the Toronto Maple Leafs finally got their first win of the season.
Niklas Hagman scored three of Toronto’s five power-play goals, and the Maple Leafs finally slowed the worst start in franchise history with a 6-3 victory over the last-place Anaheim Ducks on Monday night.
Kaberle scored a career-high five points and Lee Stempniak added a career-best four as the Maple Leafs (1-7-1) recouped some pride for the Original Six franchise, which stumbled to that miserable start with all-around faulty play.
After improved efforts in the past two games, Toronto got it going with outstanding special-teams work – a particular source of pride for Kaberle, the longtime Toronto defenceman.
“It is a big relief,” Kaberle said. “It feels good to get the win. We never thought we would go (winless) until late October. … Every line played simple hockey. Most of the night, we played in their zone. We used their penalties to our advantage, and that makes the game simple.”
Jonas Gustavsson made 25 saves to earn his first NHL victory in his first start in nearly three weeks as Toronto repeatedly capitalized on Anaheim’s 17 penalties and all-around sloppy play. The Maple Leafs scored four goals while Anaheim had just three skaters on the ice, including three two-man advantage goals.
“Hopefully we’ll remember next game how good it feels, and we’ll get another lead,” Hagman said. “We had quite a few opportunities on the power play, and most of them were obvious penalties. It’s fun to score, but today, getting the win felt real good.”
Kaberle had a goal and four assists, while Stempniak contributed a goal and three assists. Matt Stajan added three assists.
Petteri Nokelainen, Bobby Ryan and Corey Perry scored for the slumping Ducks, whose penalty-killers struggled even more than the Maple Leafs’ league-worst unit. Jonas Hiller stopped 33 shots, but couldn’t keep up with the Maple Leafs’ lengthy advantages during Anaheim’s fourth straight loss.
The Ducks have given up 21 goals during their skid – and a team with a lengthy history of racking up penalty minutes couldn’t overcome its weaknesses.
“It was a special night coming back here, but it feels even better getting the win,” said defenceman Francois Beauchemin, who left Anaheim in the off-season to sign with Toronto. “We were struggling to score goals, and tonight we had plenty of opportunities to get it done. We knew that’s how they were going to play, because that’s Anaheim, and we could capitalize on it.”
Mikhail Grabovski scored a two-man advantage goal for Toronto in the first period, and Hagman converted another two-man advantage midway through the second. Kaberle added a 4-on-3 goal with 13:49 to play during yet another delayed penalty by the Ducks, and Hagman completed his hat trick with 9:50 left on yet another 5-on-3 goal.
“It just seemed like everything we were trying to do went against us,” Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle said. “We turned the puck over in the second period probably four or five times in neutral ice, and those are things you cannot do in a 2-1 hockey game. In the third period, it just seemed to fall apart for us in the first 10 minutes.”
Toronto general manager Brian Burke watched from the press box in his new team’s first visit to the franchise he led to its lone Stanley Cup title in 2007. Burke left the Ducks last November, saying he wanted to work closer to his family, and swiftly took over the Maple Leafs.
Former teammates Ryan Getzlaf and Beauchemin exchanged shoves and nearly fought in the first period after Getzlaf slashed the former Anaheim defenceman. Perry ended up with a double minor for roughing after the 10-man scrum, leading to two goals for the Leafs.
The rough play continued in the second period when Stempniak nearly left his skates to send Todd Marchant into the boards, hitting the back of his head on the glass. Stempniak wasn’t penalized, and Carlyle later said he didn’t think it was a dirty hit, but Anaheim captain Scott Niedermayer got a roughing penalty in the ensuing shoving match, giving Toronto another two-man advantage – and Hagman capitalized again.
“We didn’t stick with what we’ve been talking about, there’s no doubt about it,” Niedermayer said. “If we were focused on our game and what we were trying to do to win the game, we wouldn’t have taken all those penalties.”
Ryan added a power-play goal late in the second, ending a six-game goal drought with just his second goal and fourth point of an unimpressive season for the top-line wing.
NOTES: Gustavsson hadn’t played since Oct. 6 after injuring his groin. Toronto activated him from injured reserve Sunday. … Expatriate Canadians didn’t come close to filling the Honda Center for just the Leafs’ third visit in more than 11 years. Toronto’s last two visits to Anaheim were in November 2003 and January 2008.