TORONTO - Jamal Mayers stared straight ahead, at no one in particular, as he attempted to describe yet another miserable outing by the Toronto Maple Leafs.
"We keep shooting ourselves in the foot with stupid mistakes and it ends up in the back of our net," the veteran winger said.
Undone by a series of giveaways, lost puck battles and a generally uninspired offence, the Leafs fell for the fourth straight game, losing 5-3 to the Los Angeles Kings in front of an unsettled home crowd Tuesday night.
Los Angeles captain Dustin Brown had three assists while goaltender Jonathan Quick had 25 saves in the win. Netminder Jonas Gustavsson made 28 saves and Niklas Hagman had a pair of goals in the loss.
The Leafs had been on the road for five games, returning home with four losses following an uninspiring tour through Florida, where they suffered a late-game meltdown (Tampa) and a shutout (Florida). Toronto remains ranked 28th of 30 teams in the NHL, as hopes of a post-season berth slip further with each new defeat.
"We need the points," Mayers said. "And we have to find a way to get some wins together."
It was Gustavsson's third straight start for the Leafs, who intend to explore just what kind of goaltender they landed last summer. The 25-year-old signed a one-year deal reportedly worth US$810,000 in July, and was 9-11-8 heading into Tuesday night, with head coach Ron Wilson suggesting his play would determine how often he would see the ice.
"I know there are about 30 games left and my contract is coming up after the season, so I know I have to play good to show that I want to stay here," Gustavsson said before the game. "I know it's up to me to show that I want to be here, and I want to be a goalie the team can count on."
Against the Kings, though, it was not always clear whether the goaltender could count on his team. Los Angeles took a 1-0 lead on a power-play goal from defenceman Drew Doughty after Toronto defenceman Ian White was sent to the box for a needless tripping infraction.
Nikolai Kulemin drew the Leafs level four minutes later, only to have the Kings strike three times in the second period. Jack Johnson, Jarret Stoll and Ryan Smyth all found a way to beat Gustavsson, counter-balancing a Hagman goal to give the visitors a 4-2 lead heading into the third period.
"I thought we kept a pretty good game plan," Brown said. "No one really overextended themselves trying to do too much, which can happen in a building like this."
Brown drew assists on all three goals in the middle frame, and none more worthy than the one he collected on Stoll's goal. Brown, named an alternate captain for the U.S. Olympic team earlier this month, stripped the puck from Leafs forward Wayne Primeau along the side boards and scooted toward the net, dishing off to his wide-open teammate.
Gustavsson withheld any blame after the game.
"Sometimes, things happen during games," he said.
Stoll's goal triggered a smattering of catcalls from what had been an especially sedate Air Canada Centre crowd. Primeau returned to the bench, chewing on his mouth guard and shaking his head.
If he had bothered to look into the stands, he would have seen he was not alone.
"It is frustrating to have opportunities you can't finish off," Wilson said. "That wasn't what was frustrating tonight. It was losing battles, and losing races to pucks. And that's the frustrating part."
NOTES: As part of a pre-game tribute to better times, retired fan favourites Dave "Tiger" Williams, Lanny McDonald and Norm Ullman were invited to conduct the ceremonial opening face-off. Toronto players had worn throwback uniforms from the 1970s in their pre-game warm-up ... The Kings are set to send five players to the Vancouver Olympics next month: Dustin Brown (U.S.), Jack Johnson (U.S.), Jonathan Quick (U.S.), Drew Doughty (Canada) and Michal Handzus (Slovakia).