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Game Journal: Game 17 - Canucks vs. Maple Leafs

by Chris Lund / Toronto Maple Leafs

4:00 PM: Tonight's officials will be Justin St. Pierre and Trevor Hanson, while Ryan Gibbons and Mark Shewchyk will handle the linesmen duties. You can tune into tonight's game on Hockey Night in Canada, on Sportsnet 590 The FAN and by following the Leafs on Twitter.

Get set for tonight's game with some help from Paul Hendrick and Bob McGill.

3:45 PM: Here are tonight's projected lineups for the Maple Leafs and Canucks.

Toronto Maple Leafs
21 van Riemsdyk - 43 Kadri - 47 Komarov
23 Matthias - 42 Bozak - 15 Parenteau
26 Winnik - 16 Spaling - 19 Lupul
40 Grabner - 56 Froese - 24 Holland

51 Gardiner - 3 Phaneuf
2 Hunwick - 44 Rielly
36 Harrington - 46 Polak

34 Reimer
45 Bernier

Vancouver Canucks

22 Sedin - 33 Sedin - 36 Hansen
47 Baertschi - 53 Horvat - 17 Vrbata
24 Cracknell - 18 Virtanen - 20 Higgins
14 Burrows - 91 McCann - 15 Dorsett

23 Edler - 8 Tanev
2 Hamhuis - 6 Weber
27 Hutton - 44 Bartkowski

30 Miller
35 Markstrom

3:15 PM:
Leafs goaltender James Reimer will get the start against the Canucks tonight. In his career he has had tough outings against the Canucks in limited exposure, with an 0-2-0 record in two games, as well as a 5.26 goals-against average and .877 save percentage.

Reimer has been steady at home this season, posting a 1-2-2 record with a 2.78 goals-against average and .911 save percentage. He has earned points in his last four starts for the Leafs.

Leafs TV caught up with him following today's morning skate. Here's what he had to say...

3:00 PM: Joffrey Lupul spoke to the media following today's morning skate. Here's what he had to say...

Leafs TV

What do you see from Kadri as he looks to get scoring?
He's getting shots, that's the most important thing. You keep shooting, eventually you get one. It might be a nice one, it might be something else. It'll seem a lot easier to him once he gets that one.

Has his demeanour changed at all?
He seems alright to me.

Does experience teach you that eventually it'll go in?
Yeah, if he keeps getting — I don't know how many shots he has, it seems like he's getting a lot of shots, especially on the power play. As long as he keeps shooting one will find its way in.

Have you noticed a change from the past in keeping the level of play consistent?
A little bit, I think that just comes with confidence. Certainly when we had the win in Dallas and we fell behind in Nashville it gives you a certain confidence you can do it again. Ideally you want to have the lead and be holding it but we're confident we can come from behind. We're trying to play the same way the whole 60 minutes is what we're trying to do.

2:00 PM: Here's what Leafs defenceman Matt Hunwick had to say ahead of tonight's game...

Leafs TV

What does it do for the room to string a couple of wins together?
I think it does a lot. Our confidence has been pretty strong the last couple of weeks. We've been in each and every game we've played since the Arizona game. We needed to win some of those games, we were kind of playing .500 hockey or losing in the shootout. It was good to come away with victories, both games we were down in the third period. To come back and give ourselves a chance to win, whether it's regulation or a shootout has been good.

What has it been like for your confidence to face the top unit of opponents?
It's good for your confidence when you're able to play against them and have success. It's obviously nice to be relied upon in those situations and you try to deliver on a shift-by-shift basis. I take a lot of pride in my defence and so far it has been a lot of fun playing against the other team's top lines.

What has been the key to the penalty kill turnaround?
You know, we've been a lot better with our neutral zone forecheck and our up-ice forecheck. Forcing the other team to dump pucks more creates more scrambles. I think early on we were letting them enter the zone a little too easily and letting them get set up and they were having their way with us a little bit. We've been better through the neutral zone, obviously the goaltending has been strong and it just comes down to bearing down, getting pucks out, all those little things that guys talk about.

1:30 PM: Nazem Kadri offered his thoughts ahead of tonight's game. Here's what he had to say...

Leafs TV

Do you change any superstitions to get the production flowing?
I'm not a superstitious guy, I like to keep things the same. I have a routine I got through every game. Other than that, like I said, it's not a matter of me not getting chances, I think it would be a little tougher to swallow if I wasn't and it was harder to get shots on net or whatever the case. I'm getting my looks. Like I said, it's just a matter of a bounce or two and then hopefully I'm going to take off.

What's more frustrating: not scoring or answering questions about not scoring?

I think they're both equally as frustrating. Like I said, I'm not overly frustrated, I'm really not. It's obviously a bit of a consolation that everything else is coming a long way. I'm really focusing on the faceoff circle and play in my own end and systematically having that good structure to give us success. I'm an offensive player, I'm going to get my looks, I'm going to get my opportunities. Everything else is something I had to work on and I have.

How do you feel about your shot?
I think it's pretty good. I'm finding a lot of spots where I'm hitting posts or goalies are getting a piece of it. Lately I've been trying to work on the release and having it a little bit quicker. Usually when it comes off the stick a little bit quicker it doesn't have to be as hard, usually it catches the goalie off guard and you have a better chance of scoring. Like I said, I'm trying to make minor tweaks. I have confidence in my shot and being able to pick a corner. It's just a matter of doing it.

Is the success rate in the faceoff circle keeping you going?
Yeah that's a huge positive for me. That's something I really lacked and really struggled with the last few years. I really wanted to focus on that and I felt like I've become stronger in the summer and just being able to give me the best opportunity to win faceoffs. I want to be out there just as much as the next guy and I want the staff to have faith in me no matter where the draw is. I think Babs has definitely shown encouragement in that area and I've just got to continue to stay consistent.

What's working for you in the circle?
I think it's a little bit of everything. Strength, I've tried different techniques, getting to know all of the centremen in the League and having more and more faceoffs, getting some experience is something there. I've tried to add a few more moves to the arsenal  and so far it's paid off.

Is the encouragement from the staff a big help as well?
Totally, that has been a huge positive. The more encouragement I get the better I feel about my game and myself and the team's game. I think the staff has done a great job. If I wasn't doing something right he'd be the first guy to tell me. He's a straight-shooter, he's not going to sugarcoat anything. I feel like my game has gone in the right direction, I've made a lot of drastic improvements in areas I've needed to work on. The offence is going to be there for me, it's just a matter of time.

1:00 PM: Leafs head coach Mike Babcock spoke to the media following today's morning skate. Here's what he had to say...

Leafs TV

How important is it for your team that you get production from your centres?

I don't know, I never thought about it much. At the end of last game we had more than they did and the game before that we had more than they did. I just keep looking at, right now, to me our special teams have gotten better, our goaltender has gotten better, our play without the puck has gotten better, we're finding ways to get points. All those things what they do is they buy the guys that you're honing in on time. So, every year in the NHL playoffs after the first round there's a whole bunch of stars that don't have goals and the stars that are out after the first series they say they never scored. Some guys who win the Cup didn't score for two rounds but someone bought them time, bought them time and then they got going. What I've found when I've coached good players, and I have, is sometimes a guy like Zetterberg will get two in 20 but then he gets 18 in the next 20 and then the math is all the same. You just keep on plugging. I don't spend a whole lot of time focused on stuff like that that I can't control. If they're getting the shots on net, are they going to the spots? Are they getting involved in the scoring chances? That to me is what I focus on, things I can control. That's what I do.

Has the team's puck support in the D zone gotten better as you've progressed?

Yeah, I thought we were getting better. I didn't think last game we were better, I thought we were structurally good but we relied on our structure and not our compete. Structure without compete to me isn't good enough. We weren't ready to go at the start of last game. We weren't ready to go at the start of the second period. In the end when you win that game -- don't get me wrong, we turned it up, we scored big goals, we did things we needed to do -- but we weren't as good as we want to be. Structurally we've improved for sure, we know where we're supposed to stand now, now we've got to make sure our compete is at the highest level every day. That's our chance to win, structure and compete for 60.

This group seems to have the pedal down no matter what, did you have to work at that or did you find they were willing from the beginning?

Well, that's not necessarily true. When the game is tied or we're behind, the pedal is to the metal. When we're ahead we get careful and that's all part of learning how to win though. I mean, our philosophy is to play like the game is tied and go get the next one. That's what we want to do each and every night no matter what the score is. Just because I say that doesn't mean it's going to happen. You learn how to win. You flat our learn how to win and you learn how to stick to it and find out that things are going to go right. When you've won two games -- when you're down one in the third -- in a row against good teams you're more likely to do it again because you've earned the right to feel better about yourself.

Has Hunwick been better than you expected?

Yeah, he's been better than everyone expected. Anyone that tells you different is flat out not telling you the truth... He's a better player. What happened was he got an opportunity. If you're with the Rangers and you're behind their left side, you don't get that opportunity. I like stories like Hunwick because pound-for-pound he's as strong as they come. He worked with that Mike Barwis in Michigan who I think is one of the best strength coaches in the whole world and he spent time and didn't fool around and now at 30 he's an important, important guy for our franchise.

How do you assess Kadri's shot?

I'd like to see him shoot it under the bar, every time he hits the post if it went in we wouldn't be talking about this. This is my two cents on Naz: he has been the best forward on our team, he competes every night, he's in on all the chances, he generates a ton, he's a way better player than I expected and on a 100 mile journey he's on mile 25. He's going to get way better as long as he competes. If he wants to be good he's going to be good. It's up to him.

On the schedule:

That's what we try to do is we try to get a month off and then try to jam in as many games as we can. I've never seen a schedule like this in my whole life... You do the math on the back-to-backs and you go through the whole thing. I really believe scheduling, you can get yourself eight extra points during the year by scheduling right. You've got to look after yourself the best you can. I don't worry about back-to-backs, I don't think about it. We get ready to play today, try to win the game. I don't care if the guys play 28 minutes or 30 minutes or any of that stuff. It doesn't make any difference to me. We're going to focus on winning today, we're going to get up tomorrow and focus on winning tomorrow.

Does Bernier go on Sunday?

Reimer is starting tonight.

12:30 PM: The Toronto Maple Leafs return to Air Canada Centre tonight as they get set to take on the Vancouver Canucks.

The Leafs enter tonight's game having won their last two games over Dallas and Nashville respectively. On Thursday night, the Leafs defeated the Predators by a 2-1 score in a shootout. Tyler Bozak scored the lone goal in regulation and Peter Holland scored the shootout winner to clinch the Leafs victory. James Reimer stopped 21 of 22 Predators shots to earn the win. He'll get the start against the Canucks tonight.

The Canucks last played on Thursday night in Ottawa against the Senators, taking a 3-2 loss. Sven Baertschi and Alexander Edler scored the two goals for Vancouver while Ryan Miller made 22 stops in the loss. Miller is expected to get the start tonight against the Leafs. Vancouver is 5-2-2 on the road this season and are in the midst of a seven-game road trip. They are 1-2-1 to this point.

Stay tuned for projected lineups, comments from Coach Babcock and the Leafs and more.

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