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Maple Leafs' Sparks shuts out Oilers in NHL debut

by Mike Brophy /

TORONTO -- Garret Sparks made 24 saves to become the first goaltender in Toronto Maple Leafs history to earn a shutout in his NHL debut, a 3-0 win against the Edmonton Oilers at Air Canada Centre on Monday.

Leo Komarov scored two goals for Toronto (8-11-5), which ended a three-game losing streak (0-2-1).

Sparks, 22, is the 25th goalie and seventh since 2000 to earn a shutout in his first NHL game.

"It all went according to plan," Sparks joked when asked if the shutout exceeded his expectations for his first NHL game.

Sparks said he is a clock-watcher and breaks down each game in five-minute increments.

"After I came out of the first period unscathed, I wanted to have a good second and I got a couple of lucky posts there," Sparks said. "Going into the third period, it was definitely on my mind, and I just wanted to be sure that if they are going to beat me, they really had to beat me. The guys in front of me kept everything to the outside and kept everything manageable. I really have them to thank for this."

The Maple Leafs recalled Sparks from the Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League on Saturday because goalie James Reimer has a lower-body injury.

After Jonathan Bernier fell to 0-8-1 in a 4-2 loss to the Washington Capitals on Saturday, Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock decided to turn the net over to Sparks.

"Life's about opportunity and how you respond to that opportunity, and obviously he must have some swagger about him, some confidence about him, because he was solid," Babcock said of Sparks. "He made some good saves. He was 6-foot-3 on every shot, which is a good thing for a goalie. He played well. We got a win."

Edmonton outshot Toronto 8-3 in the opening period, but the Maple Leafs took a 1-0 lead on Komarov's first of the night at 6:45 with Oilers center Leon Draisaitl in the penalty box for hooking. Komarov converted a nifty three-way passing play from in tight to establish a new NHL career high with his ninth goal.

The Maple Leafs turned the tables on the Oilers in the second period, outshooting them 13-8, but it was Edmonton that had the two best scoring chances. Defenseman Justin Schultz took a slap shot from the top of the right faceoff circle that beat Sparks but hit the post at 7:08. Then seven minutes later, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins hit the post with a shot from the high slot.

Sparks said he is not the kind of goalie who speaks to his goal posts.

"I just make sure I'm on my angle the next time," Sparks said.

James van Riemsdyk was impressed by the young goalie's debut.

"He was great in there," van Riemsdyk said. "He made lots of key saves for us and looked pretty poised and calm in there. I'm sure he couldn't ask for a better first game; it was a pretty easy game for him."

The Maple Leafs, who were shorthanded for the first 1:02 of the third period, were unable to add to their lead on either of two 2-on-1 opportunities in the first 1:15 of the period.

Toronto did make it 2-0 at 7:33 when Nazem Kadri tipped a Jake Gardiner snap shot from the left point past Anders Nilsson from the high slot for his third goal. Video review confirmed the call on the ice that Kadri's stick was below the crossbar when it contacted the puck.

Komarov completed the scoring with an empty-net goal with 1:01 remaining.

The Maple Leafs begin a three-game road trip at the Winnipeg Jets on Wednesday.

The Oilers (8-15-2) went 1-3-1 on their five-game road trip. Edmonton coach Todd McLellan was not pleased with their effort Monday.

"I didn't think we were a very hard team," McLellan said. "I didn't think we stood over a lot of pucks; we didn't win a lot of battles along the boards. I didn't think we were competitive enough in a lot of areas to come up with the victory. I thought the [Maple Leafs were] physically stronger than we were in a number of areas. Their power play and penalty kill was better than ours, and when that happens, you are usually on the losing end."

Taylor Hall, whose nine goals, 16 assists and 25 points lead the Oilers, thought Edmonton deserved a better fate.

"We had some posts, some chances," Hall said. "It's not like they had a ton of chances even-strength either. Bit of a chess match, but at the end of the day, they got a couple goals past our goalie and we didn't find a way to make it hard on [Sparks]."

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