TORONTO – Four games, four wins, two shutouts and just three goals given up. Martin Jones’ entry into the NHL just keeps getting better and better.
The 23-year-old from North Vancouver stopped 38 shots and Jeff Carter and Kyle Clifford scored third-period goals as the Los Angeles Kings beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 3-1 for their fifth straight win Wednesday.
Jones, who grew up a Canucks fan, has now beaten two Original Six teams in Montreal and Toronto in addition to wins over the Islanders and Anaheim.
“I try not to think about that too much,” he said when asked about his impressive run. “I just make sure I’m ready when I am called upon, just try to give these guys a chance to win. We’ve got a great team here. It’s not like I’m getting called upon to steal games here, it’s give these guys a chance to win, a couple of big saves here and there.”
It was athlete-speak worthy of a veteran. But Jones, who stopped 18 shots in the third, flashed a big grin when asked if he was having fun.
“Yeah, I’m trying to enjoy it as well,” said the former Calgary Hitman who has spent the last three seasons with the Kings’ AHL affiliate in Manchester, N.H.
Jones, whose hot hand has eclipsed ex-Leaf Ben Scrivens in the absence of injured No. 1 Jonathan Quick, now boasts a .974 save percentage, 0.74 goals-against average and has stopped 111 of 114 shots.
Carter beat former teammate Jonathan Bernier with a wrist shot between the legs on a two-on-one at 9:40 for his eighth of the year. Defenceman Paul Ranger failed to keep the puck in the Los Angeles end, creating the odd-man rush.
“Bad decision,” said Carlyle.
“In a 1-1 hockey game with 10 minutes left, it’s an ill-advised pinch,” he added.
Clifford added an insurance goal with 1:59 remaining. Drew Doughty also scored for Los Angeles (21-7-4) before 19,375 at the Air Canada Centre.
Cody Franson scored for Toronto (16-13-3), which deserved better on the night.
“By far it was our best effort in the last couple of months,” said Toronto coach Randy Carlyle. “But no reward for it. And we have to use it as a starting point.”
The Leafs were without captain and top defenceman Dion Phaneuf, serving the first half of a two-game suspension for a weekend hit on Boston’s Kevan Miller. But winger Joffrey Lupul returned after a seven-game absence due to a groin tear.
The Leafs showed more jump than a Los Angeles team playing for the second night in a row but were unable to convert their advantage into goals.
Carlyle said his players showed their frustration.
“They’re down,” Carlyle said. “Because we had so many opportunities, so many offensive chances.”
Things don’t get any easier for the Leafs with away games at St. Louis and Pittsburgh sandwiched around a visit Saturday by Stanley Cup champion Chicago.
The Kings arrived riding a season-high four-game winning streak, hot on the heels of a 6-0 win in Montreal, and were 11-1-4 in their last 16 games.
The Leafs, meanwhile, had just two regulation wins in their last 17 starts (a stretch during which they went 6-8-3).
“It’s like pushing that snowball,” sighed Carlyle. “It seems every time you lose, it gets bigger.”
Los Angeles had outshot their opponents in 21 of their previous 31 games. In contrast, the Leafs had been outshot in 27 of their 31 previous games.
But on this night, Toronto outshot L.A. 11-8 after the first period, 21-16 after the second and 39-23 at the end.
“We didn’t play too well at all,” said Doughty. “Probably one of our worst games in a while.”
Jones had to be sharp early, stopping James van Riemsdyk from in close after a fine rush by Lupul. JVR had another chance minutes later, shooting wide on a nice feed from Nazem Kadri.
But Los Angeles scored first on the power play at 10:30 of the first period, on a high wrist shot by Doughty from the top of the circle. It was his sixth goal of the season and the 200th point of his 396-game career. Peter Holland was in the box for holding as the Leafs’ penalty kill, which came into the game ranked 26th in the league, continued to wobble.
Jones stopped Nikolai Kulemin from point-blank range twice later in the period.
The Leafs outplayed the Kings in the first period but trailed 1-0 as the visitors extended their record of not allowing a first-period goal in 17 straight games.
That made for some Twitter banter. “Thoughts on the first period?” asked the Leafs’ official Twitter account.
“It was pretty pretty pretty good,” replied the Kings, via their official account.
The Kings’ record when scoring first improved to 15-2-2.
Jones stopped Phil Kessel all alone after the Leafs sniper stole a pass and broke through the defence early in the second. It took the Kings 5.5 minutes to get a shot on net in the period.
Kings forward Colin Fraser was helped to the dressing room midway through the second period after running into Frazer McLaren near the bench. There was no penalty on the play.
McLaren did go to the box after a spirited scrap with Jordan Nolan, son of interim Buffalo Sabres coach Ted Nolan.
The Leafs had their chances but either misfired or were denied by the steady Jones.
That changed when Toronto took advantage of a 64-second 5-on-3 chance after Doughty joined Willie Mitchell in the box with 5:57 remaining in the period.
Franson scored 27 seconds later, snapping a shot from a poor angle at 14:30 on a slick cross-ice pass from Kessel, with Jones unable to slide from one side of the net to another in time. It was Franson’s first of the season.
But Jones prevented further damage by stopping Lupul from in close with the second penalty about to expire. Doughty scored seconds later when he jumped out of the box but the play had been whistled dead for an altercation between Lupul and Slava Voynov at the other end of the ice.
Bernier heard the whistle and did not attempt to make the save.
“I let Slava know he screwed me out of a goal,” Doughty said wryly.
The Leaf goalie saved Lupul’s blushes early in the third when he stopped a Justin Williams’ backhand after a Lupul giveaway in front of net.
Jones made several big saves as the clock wound down to preserve the lead.
NOTES—Rookie defenceman Morgan Rielly returned to the Leafs lineup after being a healthy scratch the last three games. John-Michael Liles sat out the game … For the second night in a row, Toronto FC’s Brazilian target Gilberto was at the ACC. He saw the Raptors lose Tuesday to San Antonio.