TORONTO — Matt Martin thinks his offensive statistics might skyrocket just by having a new linemate.
Mitch Marner played on Toronto’s fourth line for the third straight game and set up two goals, including one from Martin, as the Maple Leafs handed the Los Angeles Kings their first regulation-time loss of the season with a 3-2 victory on Monday.
"He’s one of the elite playmakers in the league so it’s a good opportunity for me and (Dominic Moore) right now to try and get some offence," said Martin.
"We’ll ride this as long as we can."
Marner struggled to produce early in the season with his regular linemates Tyler Bozak and James van Riemsdyk after scoring 19 goals and 61 points in 77 games as a rookie, leading to him being replaced on Toronto’s second line by Connor Brown.
He entered Monday with just one goal in eight games but was Toronto’s best player against the Kings, according to his coach.
"We need him to be a star, we think he’s a star," said Mike Babcock.
"The NHL is a hard league when it doesn’t go your way and the other thing about the league is when someone gets in your spot and they play real good, that makes it hard for you. I thought he was excellent tonight, I thought that line was good, I thought Matt Martin was a good player for us."
Marner’s effort led to the game’s opening goal 5:46 into the contest.
He curled behind the net before teeing up Polak for a one-timer from the blue line that Martin deflected past Jonathan Quick from the top of the crease.
"Everyone is scared of (Martin) when that guy’s coming full speed at you on the forecheck," said Marner.
"We kind of talked about that before the game, just let him be the animal he is in deep. It worked out. He made some great plays out there to get me the puck and it went our way."
Quick took an errant elbow from teammate Derek Forbort with 2:59 remaining in the first and clutched his head briefly, but continued on.
With 1:11 to go in the period, however, Quick was forced off the ice for concussion protocol by the league spotter. He returned at the next whistle without going to the locker room, though, only visiting with the team trainer in the tunnel to the room. He missed just 36 seconds of game action while replaced by Darcy Kuemper.
The situation confused many, including Kings head coach John Stevens, who said the league did a second review and rescinded their mandatory evaluation.
"Everybody was just doing what they were told," said Stevens. "In the end, we wanted to put Johnny back in but (the refs) deemed him an injured player and he had to come out for one play.
"Quite honestly we want to ask the league because it was a little disruptive. Nobody to blame, just more clarification."
William Nylander drew a penalty that turned into a 2-0 Toronto lead only eight seconds into a power play when Bozak jammed home a rebound with 5:15 to play in the second. Marner earned his second assist of the night on the play.
The two-goal lead didn’t last long as Adrian Kempe beat Frederik Andersen under the right arm with a wrist shot 57 seconds later that the Leafs goalie would have liked to have had back. Andersen had stopped 28 shots before finally being beaten.
Marner thought he had broken his goal slump early in the third, but it was instantly waived off for incidental contact on Quick, who was taken out of the play by a sliding Martin. Babcock challenged the call and lost.
"I think it could go either way, I don’t really have an issue with it other than it would have been nice for Mitch to get one," said Martin.
Marleau scored 26 seconds later with a deflection that went to review for a high stick, but the call stood and it was 3-1 Leafs 2:46 into the third.
Trevor Lewis cut into Toronto’s lead with a short-handed goal with 7:41 to go, getting alone on Andersen before sneaking the puck through his pads.
Any chance of a comeback was halted when Quick took a minor for interference with 2:05 to play.
"We got back to the way we want to play, I think," said Marner. "We played a solid defensive game. I think that’s what we’ve got to be happy with here."
Toronto defenceman Roman Polak made his season debut after signing a one-year $US1.1 million deal on Sunday.
He had one assist and played 12-plus minutes. More importantly, according Babcock, was Polak’s influence on young defensive partner Andreas Borgman.
"Interesting, Roman’s back tonight and Borgman has his best game," said Babcock.
The Leafs host Carolina on Thursday.