Dustin Brown had the only goal in a shootout Monday as the opportunistic Los Angeles Kings beat the Maple Leafs 3-2. With both teams in the midst of major struggles, it was only natural the loser felt an extra sense of disappointment.
"We're not happy with losing games, but you're not going to have an 82-game season that goes perfect," said Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf. "I haven't seen one yet. To be honest with you, we're going to work through this as a group. We've got the guys in here, we're confident in our team and we're going to come back to work tomorrow."
Toronto has just two victories in its last nine games and has seen its grip on an Eastern Conference playoff spot weakened as a result. After a solid opening month, the team now sits seventh in the conference — one point up on Buffalo and two points ahead of Winnipeg and Ottawa.
However, the players are trying to block out the big picture and focus on back-to-back games before the Christmas break. They're home to the Sabres on Thursday and visit the Islanders on Friday.
"We're not looking past those two games and what's going to happen in January, what's going to happen in February," said Phaneuf. "We're confident in our group and we're going to turn this thing around."
The most encouraging sign from Monday's game was the excellent play of goaltender James Reimer, who stopped 40 shots through 65 minutes.
Justin Williams and Brown scored in regulation for Los Angeles (15-14-4), which finished 2-2-0 on a road trip that started with coach Terry Murray being fired.
"There was kind of a lot of drama surrounding the road trip that went on and to get this one here tonight, it's huge for us to break even on the road trip," said goaltender Jonathan Quick. "At the end of the day, we need to be doing better. We're a better team than this."
John-Michael Liles and Matt Frattin replied for the Leafs (16-13-4), who are still looking for more consistency in their game.
"It's something that we have to continue to focus on," said Liles. "This league's too tough and too close, there's too much parity, that if you take five shifts off and things can change real quick."
The hard-luck Kings benefited from some good fortune.
Williams opened the scoring at 7:54 of the first period after watching Drew Doughty's shoot-in go along the glass, deflect off a stanchion and kick right in front.
"I've never seen that happen in this building," said Reimer.
The second Kings goal involved a bit of controversy after the puck appeared to trickle out over the blue-line. However, the linesman ruled Doughty held it in — even the defenceman seemed surprised — and a few seconds later the puck was in the back of the Leafs net after a tic-tac-toe passing play ended with Brown beating Reimer.
"I was told it was offside," Doughty said afterwards. "I haven't seen it but we finally got a good bounce our way — we haven't been getting those at all lately so finally the hockey gods helped us out."
The Leafs managed to fight back with a tying goal early in the third period, but couldn't get one more to pull out a victory. The team is just 7-5-4 at Air Canada Centre this season.
Los Angeles boarded a plane after the game feeling good about itself heading into a new era. Darryl Sutter is expected to be named as the club's new head coach before the Kings host Anaheim on Thursday night.
"I like what I saw tonight but I think we need to build on it," said interim coach John Stevens, who hopes to stay on as an assistant under Sutter.
The Leafs, meanwhile, will have to regroup without forward Colby Armstrong. He pronounced himself fit to play after Monday's morning skate but ended up being a late scratch because of a concussion that took the team by surprise.
Armstrong suffered the injury during Saturday's loss to Vancouver and only informed the medical staff of the problem on Monday afternoon. He was feeling nauseous and dizzy.
"It took us all by complete shock because we had no idea that he had his bell rung the other night," said Leafs coach Ron Wilson. "He kind of kept that from us."
Notes: Dating back to April 2, 2009, the Kings are 68-0-4 when leading after two periods. ... The last time the Kings scored more than two goals in a game was Nov. 22. ... The Leafs dressed tough guy Colton Orr. He's been a healthy scratch 28 times this season ... Announced attendance was 19,525.