LOS ANGELES – Without much time to recover from the flight from Toronto to Los Angeles, Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson expected the fast-skating Kings to come out aggressively against his team. Fortunately for the Leafs, Vesa Toskala held the fort until their offence woke up.
Toskala made 32 saves in his third straight solid start and Matt Stajan and Mikhail Grabovski had power-play goals less than 1 1/2 minutes apart early in the third period, and Toronto went on to beat the Kings 3-1 Monday night.
“When you’re coaching a West Coast team, you always try to jump on an Eastern team early in the game when they’ve gone coast to coast in one day,” said Wilson, the former coach of the San Jose Sharks.
“The game starts 10:30 on your body clock, so it’s kind of hard. I mean, I’m usually in bed by that time. So I could just imagine how everybody else felt,” Wilson added. “I wrote on the scouting report that we had to weather the storm in the first 10 minutes. The Kings were all over us. But once we settled down, we got back into our throw-the-puck-at-the-net kind of game and found a way to get the two points.”
Alexander Frolov scored for Los Angeles on the first shot of the game, but the Kings fell apart after Sean O’Donnell and captain Dustin Brown were called for staggered tripping penalties in the third.
Stajan tied the score with 17:51 remaining during a goalmouth scramble, while goaltender Jason LaBarbera was caught off-balance in the crease. The goal came with three seconds left on the two-man advantage.
“To go into the third period up 1-0 and end up down two men so quickly, it was unfortunate because the game was going pretty well,” said Kings coach Terry Murray, whose team 7-1 when leading after two periods.
Grabovski got the go-ahead goal on a perfect centring pass from John Mitchell with 29 seconds left on Brown’s penalty.
“We played well, we just didn’t do enough. We found a way to lose tonight instead of finding a way to win,” LaBarbera said. “It’s tough when you take two penalties right away. We talked about that right before we went out there; try to keep your sticks on you because we were the ones who got two calls there at the end of the second. Unfortunately it went against us and they scored two goals.”
Defenceman Jeff Finger scored into an empty net with 10 seconds remaining as the Leafs improved to 2-0 under new general manager Brian Burke.
Toronto right-wing Jamal Mayers sat out the last two periods with a broken right hand after sliding into the net and banging it on the goalpost.
“You’re looking at three weeks to a month, probably,” Wilson said when asked how long Mayers would be out.
The Kings got the jump on the Maple Leafs with Frolov’s ninth goal of the season. Defenceman Matt Greene intercepted Stajan’s dump-in pass and quickly threw the puck ahead to Frolov, who split the defence and went in alone on Toskala before putting a backhander past the goalie’s stick just 57 seconds after the opening faceoff.
“It wasn’t Vesa’s fault, to be left alone like that,” Wilson said. “We got caught napping a little bit.”
Brown’s breakaway came at 8:39 of the first period after rookie Luke Schenn lost the puck in his skates at the Toronto blue-line while backchecking on a Kings rush. But Toskala stood his ground.
“Vesa obviously made some huge saves,” Wilson said. “He was just as sharp as he was the two previous games. And with goaltending like that, you have a really good chance to win.”
Toronto, coming off a 4-2 win against Philadelphia, has won consecutive games for the first time since beating New Jersey 6-5 and then the New York Rangers 5-2 on Nov. 1.
The Maple Leafs played at Staples Center for only the third time since the arena opened in October 1999. The other two visits resulted in a 4-4 tie on Nov. 13, 2003, and a 5-2 loss on Jan. 10. Their last victory in Los Angeles came on March 12, 1998, at the Inglewood Forum, when Felix Potvin outplayed Stephane Fiset in net for a 2-1 decision.
“It was a slow start, but Vesa held us in there for the first period, so I give him a lot of the credit,” Finger said. “He gave us some time to get our legs back under us. I think it took a good period and a half before we got the cobwebs out.”
Notes: … Kings RW John Zeiler, who was suspended for the previous three games after checking Colorado’s Adam Foote into the boards from behind on Nov. 22, was a healthy scratch. … Wilson returns to San Jose Tuesday night for the first time since the Sharks fired him on May 12. He guided the Sharks to a pair of division titles and four playoff appearances during his four-plus seasons in Northern California. … The game featured two of the top five picks in the June draft. D Drew Doughty was chosen second by the Kings, three ahead of Schenn. … Brown became the fifth player to get 100 shots on net this season, joining Washington LW Alex Ovechkin, Carolina C Eric Staal, Philadelphia C Jeff Carter and Detroit RW Marian Hossa. … The Kings were 0-for-4 on the power play, making them 3-for-34 over their last eight games.