|Toronto Maple Leafs goalie James Reimer celebrates after defeating the Los Angeles Kings during a shoot out in NHL hockey action in Toronto on Sunday, December 14, 2014. CP
Since being walloped 9-2 by visiting Nashville almost a month ago, the Toronto Maple Leafs have been flying high.
A 4-3 shootout win Sunday over the Los Angeles Kings improved Toronto’s record to 9-1-1 since the Predators’ debacle. The Leafs (18-9-3) have won five straight, lead the league in scoring with 3.37 goals a game and are 13-0-0 when they score first.
Still head coach Randy Carlyle isn’t popping the champagne, despite back-to-back wins over Detroit and the defending Stanley Cup champion Kings. He believes the streaking Leafs have more in them.
“We think this group’s got more to give,” he said. “We think we still have some areas we definitely need to clean up and work on. And we’re going to continue to be a work in progress, I think as every team is.”
The road will also get tougher. Toronto has played 20 games at home so far and, after one more Air Canada Centre date Tuesday with Anaheim, faces eight of nine games away from home.
“We have to skate, we can’t turn that puck over and we have to establish that forechecking game,” Carlyle said, detailing his recipe for success. “That’s when we’re most effective.”
Carlyle has seen his team ride peaks and valleys. He knows things can go south quickly.
“There’s always danger. Pro sports is about danger, you’re always living on the edge … If you look at the schedule we have and the opponents we have coming, it can have a snowball effect. We’d like to keep this snowball rolling in our direction and not allow it to go in any other direction.”
After going up 2-0 in the first period on goals by Mike Santorelli and Cody Franson, Toronto wobbled late in the second period as Justin Williams and Dwight King scored three minutes 44 seconds apart.
The Kings pulled ahead 1:02 into the third when Marian Gaborik, taking a slick pass from Williams, beat James Reimer on the second try after the goalie stopped the first shot. The Leafs answered on the power play with James van Riemsdyk redirecting a Franson pass past Jonathan Quick at 6:49 for his 13th goal, making it 3-3.
Reimer had the last laugh in the shootout, stopping Gaborik, Dustin Brown and Anze Kopitar. He is now 9-9 in shootouts, having stopped 41 of 60 attempts
Joffrey Lupul scored the lone goal for Toronto in the shootout, beating Quick. Tyler Bozak and Santorelli missed.
“They’re a good team,” said Kings defenceman Drew Doughty. “I think maybe we could have deserved a little bit better if we had got off to a better start. But we didn’t and that’s why we lost.”
It was a game that took a while to reach the boil but the third period was fast-paced and entertaining before an Air Canada Centre crowd of 19,219 on a rare 5 p.m. local time Sunday start.
Los Angeles outshot the Leafs 33-30 in regulation and 36-31 in total. Toronto’s second line of Nazem Kadri, Santorelli and Daniel Winnik excelled for the home side.
The Kings (15-10-6), who wrap up a five-game road trip in St. Louis on Tuesday, have lost four of their past five and are 4-4-2 in their last 10.
“We need to play desperate,” said Doughty, “because we’re losing points and we’re slowly getting out of the playoff spots. So we definitely need to start paying attention to the standings and win more games.”
The frustration is building for the defending champions.
“We’re used to winning,” said Doughty. “We have a lot of winners as players on this team and as an organization. It’s definitely frustrating. But we need to get through it as players together and get to where we know we can be.”
The second period has belonged to the Leafs this season with a league-high 41 goals. But the Kings ruled this time.
Williams cut the lead to 2-1 with his eighth goal at 16:02. The King winger beat Jake Gardiner on a rush, helped somewhat by a lucky bounce, and swept the puck in past Reimer. King then tied it up at 19:46, twisting Franson inside out en route to the goal from the corner before neatly depositing the puck past Reimer, who thought he had it.
Former Kings goalie Jonathan Bernier got the night off after helping the Leafs to a 4-1 win over visiting Detroit on Saturday. It was Reimer’s second start in 11 games, a stretch that included a stellar 41-save performance in a road win over the Wings on Wednesday.
Santorelli, celebrating his 29th birthday, opened the scoring at 14:00 of the first when he came from behind the net, after taking a deft pass from Winnik, and beat Quick high stick-side for his sixth of the season.
Trevor Lewis had a glorious chance for the Kings late in the period when, with Reimer face down, he hit the bottom of the goalpost and the puck bounced under the goalie.
Franson made it 2-0 with 30 seconds left in the first period, floating a shot through traffic from the blue-line for his fifth goal of the season.
Toronto emerged from the period with the lead despite being outshot 11-8 and losing 16 of 20 faceoffs.