Maple Leafs 6 Ducks 1
TORONTO — Jake Muzzin couldn’t have asked for a smoother transition to his new team.
He was also happy to heap more misery on an old foe.
The defenceman scored once and added two assists for his first three points with Toronto as the Maple Leafs thumped the free-falling Anaheim Ducks 6-1 on Monday.
Acquired from the Los Angeles Kings for two prospects and a first-round pick last week, Muzzin has already provided a physical presence and calming influence to a blue line previously viewed as the Leafs’ weak link.
“Good team, good coaching, good plan, and it’s easy to follow,” Muzzin said of why things have clicked. “They’re very clear in how we’re supposed to play, and that’s how we’re playing.”
Set to turn 30 later this month, he’s been blown away by the welcome in Toronto, including the huge ovations from the crowd at Scotiabank Arena for a couple of thunderous hits in his first two home outings.
“It’s been awesome,” said Muzzin, a native of Woodstock, Ont. “I didn’t know what to expect, really, with media and hockey in general. I’m very pleased with how it’s going.
“Hopefully it continues.”
Rookie winger Andreas Johnsson added two goals and two assists to register the first four-point game of his career for Toronto (32-17-3). William Nylander and John Tavares, with a goal and an assist each, and Connor Brown also scored for the Leafs, who have won three in a row at home after dropping six of their previous seven.
Frederik Andersen made 24 saves, while Zach Hyman added two assists.
Rickard Rakell replied for Anaheim (21-23-9), which got 30 stops from John Gibson before he was pulled in favour of Chad Johnson following Toronto’s fifth goal.
The Ducks, who trailed 6-0 after the first period of Saturday’s embarrassing 9-3 defeat in Winnipeg, have lost four straight and are just 2-12-4 over their last 18.
Despite the freefall, Anaheim remains just three points out of the final wild-card spot in the congested Western Conference, thanks in large part to Gibson’s Vezina Trophy-level play this season.
“It’s hard on everybody,” head coach Randy Carlyle said. “This is not an easy time.”
Muzzin, who battled the Ducks over the years in the bruising Pacific Division, said teams built like Anaheim — and Los Angeles could be added to the mix — aren’t long for the NHL.
“The game of hockey is transitioning to a skill, fast game like we have here,” said Muzzin, who’s been paired with No. 1 defenceman Morgan Rielly. “It’s tough. The big guys, some of them just can’t handle the speed and skill that some of these Eastern teams have.”
Toronto has made a habit of playing up or down to the competition this season, but that wasn’t the case Monday.
The Leafs snapped a 0-0 tie at 3:02 of the second when Tavares ripped his 31st goal of the season upstairs on Gibson.
Andersen, who shared the Anaheim crease with Gibson from 2013 to 2016 before getting traded to Toronto, stopped Nick Ritchie on a breakaway later in the period, prompting the home crowd to belt out chants of “Freddie! Freddie!”
Gibson then robbed Auston Matthews on a power play, but Johnsson made it 2-0 just 10 seconds after the penalty expired when he backhanded home his 11th at 13:40 off the rebound of Muzzin’s one-time blast through traffic.
The Leafs blue-liner then rocked Corey Perry near the Ducks bench to once again energize the building.
Perry and Muzzin came together in the third to exchange pleasantries.
“Just making sure he was OK,” said Muzzin, tongue planted firmly in cheek.
Ritchie took a retaliation cross-checking penalty moments later on Muzzin, who made the Ducks pay on the ensuing power play, blasting his fifth on another one-timer past Gibson with 2.2 seconds left on the clock to snap a 2-for-33 skid with the man advantage that finally has a trigger man at the point.
The cheers for Toronto’s newest player continued as the period ended and the teams jawed at each other before going to the locker-rooms.
“It’s huge, you have a couple big hits now in the beginning and it’s going to create space for skilled guys,” Johnsson said of Muzzin’s influence on the game. “That was a part we didn’t have before.”
Anaheim got on the board at 2:45 of the third when Rakell sniped his ninth past Andersen, but the Leafs got that one back 31 seconds later when Brown scored his fifth on a 2-on-2 to rush with Nylander.
“There’s nobody in our locker-room that’s not trying,” Rakell said. “We want to do the right things, but our head is not really in the game.”
Nylander, who came in with just one goal since ending his contract impasse in early December, then picked the far corner on Gibson.
“It’s coming together,” Nylander said. “Today was a step in the right direction.”
That ended the night for Gibson, who has been pulled in three straight games. He went to the locker-room and didn’t return to the bench.
Johnsson, who only missed one game with a concussion thanks to the all-star break and Toronto’s bye week, then cut into the slot fired his 12th past Johnson at 14:51 to make it 6-1.
Notes: Johnson finished with eight saves. … Toronto hosts Ottawa on Wednesday. … Anaheim is in Montreal on Tuesday.