Sparks, Kapanen lead Maple Leafs to 4-1 win over Kings
TORONTO (AP) — Garret Sparks had a lot of thoughts before his first start of the season earlier this month. He didn’t have a chance to overthink his second outing.
The backup goalie made 33 saves in place of the injured Frederik Andersen, Kasperi Kapanen scored twice and the Toronto Maple Leafs beat the Los Angeles Kings 4-1 Monday night for their fifth straight win.
Sparks allowed six goals on 31 shots in a wild 7-6 overtime triumph in Chicago on Oct. 7 against the Blackhawks — the team he grew up cheering for as a kid in the nearby suburb of Elmhurst. He was much sharper against Los Angeles in his first home appearance for the Maple Leafs since April 6, 2016.
“When you’re starting the season on the road, in Chicago, Stan Mikita night ... there’s a lot of stuff buzzing around,” Sparks said of the game at United Center. “It was a really emotional day for me.”
Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock announced Sparks as the game’s starter ahead of No. 1 goalie Frederik Andersen after the morning skate. Toronto then announced about 2 1/2 hours before puck drop that Andersen has a lower-body injury and is listed as day-to-day, with Eamon McAdam getting recalled from Newfoundland of the ECHL on an emergency basis.
“I wasn’t anticipating playing when I went to bed (Sunday),” said Sparks, who was the AHL goalie of the year last season. “But that’s the nature of this position — having to be ready and being able to perform when you’re called upon.”
Babcock said after the game he expects Andersen to start when the Leafs host the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday.
Patrick Marleau and Mitch Marner also scored to help Toronto win for the sixth time in seven games. Auston Matthews and Jake Gardiner each added two assists.
Matthews leads the NHL in scoring (10 goals, six assists) and is just the fourth player in league history to start a season with seven consecutive multi-point games, joining Mario Lemieux (1992-93), Kevin Stevens (1992-93), Mike Bossy (1984-85) and Wayne Gretzky (1983-84).
“I’m just trying to play hockey, have fun and get those opportunities and try to cash in on them,” Matthews said. “Fortunate they’ve been going in. ... The most important thing is we’ve been winning games.”
Ilya Kovalchuk scored for the Kings, who have lost four of six (2-3-1). Jack Campbell stopped 21 shots for Los Angeles.
The Maple Leafs were back home after a perfect 4-0-0 road trip where they outscored their opponents 23-15, including a 4-2 victory over defending Stanley Cup champion Washington on Saturday.
Toronto got on the scoreboard just 46 seconds in against the Kings when Kapanen banked a shot off Campbell from behind the net for his third goal of the season. The play started with Matthews fighting off Kings defenseman Drew Doughty before finding Gardiner at the point.
″(Campbell) was scrambling a bit,” said Kapanen, adding with a grin: “It looks good on paper when you get at least one shot.”
Kapanen has all eight of his points (four goals, four assists) since moving into Toronto’s top-6 alongside Matthews and Marleau during the Chicago game — occupying a spot originally pegged for William Nylander, who remains in Sweden as his contract impasse drags on.
“He can skate fast, he’s got skill,” Matthews said of Kapanen. “Every game we’ve been able to develop more and more chemistry.”
The Kings, coming off a 5-1 loss at Ottawa on Saturday, nearly tied it moments later, but Tyler Toffoli’s shot pinged off the post and stayed out.
The Leafs made it 2-0 with 20.5 seconds left in the first on their second power play of the period when Marleau was given far too much time and space at the side of Campbell’s net before sliding his first in off Doughty.
The Kings cut the deficit in half at 3:38 of the second when Matthews mishandled a puck in front his own net before Alex Iafallo fed Kovalchuk, who beat Sparks between the pads for his second. The goal for the 35-year-old Kovalchuk, who spent the last five seasons playing at home in Russia’s KHL, was his first against Toronto since Dec. 6, 2011, when he was with New Jersey.
The Leafs regained a two-goal lead at 8:28. Zach Hyman stepped around Doughty before absorbing an attempted sandwich hit by the defenseman and Dion Phaneuf, leaving the puck for John Tavares to find a wide-open Marner at the side of the net to tap in his third goal and 11th point.
Tavares also now has 11 points, while Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly, who was held off the scoresheet Monday, has 13.
“It seemed like a lot of bounces were going their way,” Doughty said. “It’s not like we played like crap or anything. I thought it was a pretty even game.”
Sparks made a nice blocker stop on Toffoli right before Marner’s goal. He then stopped Jeff Carter on the second of two Kings’ power plays — dropping Los Angeles to 0 for 21 on the season.
Toronto capped the scoring at 7:45 of the third when Matthews fed Kapanen on a 2-on-1 rush and he beat Campbell, who made his fifth straight start in place of the injured Jonathan Quick, on a backhand upstairs for his fourth.
NOTES: McAdam got recalled after the Leafs lost both Curtis McElhinney and Calvin Pickard to the waiver wire right before the season, while Kasimir Kaskisuo of the AHL’s Toronto Marlies was injured over the weekend. Jeff Glass, Kaskisuo’s backup with the Marlies, is on an AHL-only contract. ... Kings starting G Jonathan Quick missed his fifth straight game with a lower-body injury.
Kings: Host the New York Islanders on Thursday night.
Maple Leafs: Host Pittsburgh on Thursday night.