TORONTO – Garret Sparks had a lot of thoughts rattling in his head before his first start of the season.
He didn’t have a chance to overthink the second.
Toronto’s backup goalie made 33 saves in place of the injured Frederik Andersen, Kasperi Kapanen scored twice and the Maple Leafs stretched their winning streak to five games with Monday’s 4-1 victory over the Los Angeles Kings.
Sparks allowed six goals on 31 shots in a wild 7-6 overtime triumph on Oct. 7 in Chicago against the Blackhawks – the team he grew up cheering for as a kid in the nearby suburb of Elmhurst – but was much sharper against Los Angeles in his first home appearance for the 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.”
Leafs head coach Mike Babcock named Sparks as a surprise starter against the Kings following Monday’s morning skate, which seemed like a peculiar decision at the time given Toronto had a day off on Sunday.
The team then announced about 2 1/2 hours before puck drop that Andersen had suffered a knee injury, with Eamon McAdam getting recalled from the Newfoundland Growlers of the third-tier 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 had the other goals for Toronto (6-1-0), while 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 replied for Los Angeles (2-3-1). Jack Campbell stopped 21 shots for the Kings.
Fresh off a perfect 4-0-0 road trip where they outscored their opponents 23-15, including a 4-2 victory over the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals on Saturday, the Leafs got on the board just 46 seconds in 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 defenceman 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.”
On the heels of Saturday’s 5-1 road loss to the Ottawa Senators, the Kings nearly tied it moments later, but Tyler Toffoli’s shot pinged off the post.
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 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.
But the Leafs got that one back at 8:28 on a sequence that compounded Doughty’s miserable night. Zach Hyman stepped around the blue liner before absorbing an attempted sandwich hit by Doughty 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 defenceman 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.
“It sucks. It sucks losing.”
Sparks made a nice blocker stop on Toffoli right before the Marner goal and then stopped Jeff Carter on the second of two Kings’ power plays – a beleaguered man-advantage unit that has failed to score on all 21 of its opportunities so far this season.
Toronto put things to bed at 7:45 of the third when Matthews outwaited a sliding Doughty on a 2-on-1 before feeding Kapanen, who beat Campbell on a backhand upstairs.
“You’ve got to be ready for your opportunity in life when it comes along,” Babcock said of Kapanen. “It’s great to get the job … you’ve got to be able to do a good job.”
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 goalie Jonathan Quick missed his fifth straight game with a lower-body injury.