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Game Journal: Game 23 - Capitals vs. Maple Leafs

by Chris Lund / Toronto Maple Leafs

2:30 PM: Tonight's officials will be Rob Martell and Marc Joannette, while Scott Cherrey and Mark Shewchyk will handle the linesman duties. Those looking to tune into the game can watch on Hockey Night in Canada, listen on TSN 1050 and follow the Leafs on Twitter.

Paul Hendrick and Bob McGill check in from Air Canada Centre to get you set for tonight's game.

2:00 PM: With James Reimer unable to play due to injury, Jonathan Bernier will get the start for the Maple Leafs against the Washington Capitals on Saturday night.

In five career games against Washington, Bernier is 3-2-0 with a 2.62 goals-against average and .909 save percentage. This is his first matchup against the Capitals this season and fourth start at home.

Opposing Bernier will be Braden Holtby. In seven games against the Leafs, Holtby is 5-1-1 with a 1.55 goals-against average and .955 save percentage.

1:30 PM: Here are tonight's projected lineups for the Maple Leafs and Capitals.

Toronto Maple Leafs
21 van Riemsdyk - 43 Kadri - 47 Komarov
23 Matthias - 42 Bozak - 15 Parenteau
40 Grabner - 16 Spaling - 19 Lupul
24 Holland - 56 Froese - 28 Boyes

51 Gardiner - 3 Phaneuf
2 Hunwick - 44 Rielly
52 Marincin - 46 Polak

45 Bernier
31 Sparks

Washington Capitals
8 Ovechkin - 19 Backstrom - 77 Oshie
90 Johansson - 92 Kuznetsov - 14 Williams
25 Chimera - 83 Beagle - 65 Burakovsky
21 Laich - 46 Latta - 43 Wilson

88 Schmidt - 74 Carlson
27 Alzner - 2 Niskanen
9 Orlov - 4 Chorney

70 Holtby
31 Grubauer

1:00 PM: Leafs TV caught up with Leafs blueliner Morgan Rielly ahead of tonight's game. Here's what he had to say...

12:45 PM: Leafs defenceman Jake Gardiner offered his thoughts ahead of tonight's game vs. Washington. Here's what he had to say...

Leafs TV

On the challenge of Ovechkin:
Yeah, he's tough. I feel bad for Morgan and Hunny, it's not ideal to play against a player like that but they're doing a heck of a job. I expect the same tonight.

What do you take away from the game in Washington a couple of weeks ago?
That last second goal was tough. We've worked on a lot of things -- hopefully we're up a goal at that time in the game. I think we can shut them down this time. We've worked on a lot of things and tightened a few things up. Just shutting Ovechkin, they have a few young guys who are really skilled, shutting them down is huge.

How well has the club done defensively in terms of minimizing mistakes and playing clean?

It's been huge. Our whole team has been buying in and obviously Reims has been playing great for us. Last year I think we had a few lapses. This year we're coming together as a team, not just the defence but the forwards as well. Everyone is helping out. I think that makes a huge difference.

How important is having a good night to get Bernier going?
For sure, he's a great goaltender. He's been great for us so hopefully we can play well in front of him.

Do you love the movement the club has been able to have on the power play?
We're starting to get more movement, more chances. We had a game last week where had four of them [power play goals]. Any time we can help out and get a goal on the power play is huge.

Are you trying to shoot the puck more this year vs. years past?
Yeah, I'm not really thinking about it, it's just opportunities are presenting themselves. I did work on moving across the blueline a lot this summer. When you're standing still on the blueline I think it's tough to get pucks through, but when you're moving it makes the forwards think and obviously opens up lanes too.

12:30 PM: Maple Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf spoke to the media following Saturday's morning skate. Here's what he had to say...

Leafs TV

How focused is the team on playing a good game in front of Bernier tonight?

I think we're focused on how we have to play as a team no matter who's starting. We've got lots of confidence in both of them. Obviously Reims had been playing real strong hockey for us. I think he has been the backbone of our team, but injuries happen. When injuries happen other guys step up. Bernie is going in and we've got lots of confidence in Bernie and how he can play. We've got to play to our structure tonight, we know we're playing a team with a lot of offensive threats. It's a big game for our team coming off of a four day break. We've got to get into it early because sometimes when you practice and you get the rest days, it's a little bit of an adjustment early. Our focus is to have a good start.

Is the system in place to help your goaltenders given how well you've played in the D zone?

Yeah, our focus from the start of training camp was to really work on our system and how we have to play and when we play with the structure we have in our game it gives us a chance. I think you can see that the effort has been there. We've been working on it day-in and day-out to keep improving and that's, for us, the main thing. We want to keep getting better every day. I think we've taken a lot of steps in the right direction as a group.

Is getting the Capitals on the second day of a back-to-back an advantage?

Well I don't know what time -- I think they played a little bit earlier yesterday -- but back-to-backs are part of this league and part of this business. We say it every time we have one and I'm sure they're going to say the same thing, it's about the game you're playing now. They're focused on today, we're focused on today. We've had a break, we want to have a good start, that's our focus.

12:05 PM: Here's what Leafs head coach Mike Babcock had to say following Saturday's morning skate at Air Canada Centre.

Leafs TV

Opening Remarks:

Bernie is starting if you didn't know.

Did Reimer just come in not feeling right?

Yesterday we talked to the therapy people and the doctors thought that because he wasn't as comfortable -- he said he feels pretty good today but wasn't as comfortable as he should have been on the ice. We're just not taking any chances with that so does that mean he's on the ice and practicing tomorrow? I can't tell you that for sure, I sure think that but they just decided to keep him off today doing a bunch of stuff in the pool, working on the same slides in the pool.

What kind of opportunity is this for Bernier?

Huge I'd say. I'd grab it if I was him.

When you watch Bernier is it just the one mistake here or there or is there something bigger?

The bottom line is there's a real competition that goes on. When the puck is dropped it's between two centres, it's Ovechkin against Rielly, it's the goalie against the goalie. You've got to outplay the other guy. It's the National Hockey League. Lots of goalies let in tough goals but they don't do it at the wrong time. Other guys just can't find their way. You've got to earn the right to feel good about yourself. Your goalie coach can stay up all night working, talking to you. In the end, he's been a good goalie in the past. Grab hold and get running.

Are you pleased with the work you saw from the guys in practice?

Yeah, I mean, I'd have liked to have done it for two days not four. It seems like we've had -- I can't even remember the last game. So let's get up and running again here now. We must play a bunch in a row here coming up.

What has Polak done to secure his spot in the lineup? Is it his PK work?

That's a huge part of it, the PK has been way better and he's the guy hobbling off the ice all the time after he blocks the shot. Everyone's got a different skillset. Obviously if you want to be critical of Roman you'd say he doesn't make the first pass as good as you'd like but he competes and he's a good pro and he's there every day doing things right. To me he's a constant for us, he reminds me of Leo, they're the same that way. They just come every single day, they bring everything they have, they make the people around them better.

What's the biggest challenge with the Capitals' power play?

I'd just stay out of the box. The other thing is when a power play is really good, the tendency is you all get passive so you all stand there and watch them. I don't know why we do that. Let's go after them and if they make three or four good passes, say good job, slap them on the pads on the way to the faceoff circle and let's get on with it. Let's not stand there and watch them.

11:45 AM: The Toronto Maple Leafs return to action on Saturday night when they play host to the Washington Capitals at Air Canada Centre.

The Leafs haven't played since Monday night, a 4-3 shootout loss to the Boston Bruins at Air Canada Centre. The Leafs got goals from Joffrey Lupul, Leo Komarov and Tyler Bozak in the loss, while James Reimer stopped 26 shots in goal. Reimer will be unable to play on Saturday night due to an injury sustained in practice on Tuesday. Garret Sparks has been recalled from the Toronto Marlies to back up Jonathan Bernier for the Leafs.

The Capitals come to Toronto after playing a home fixture against the Tampa Bay Lightning last night. Washington earned the 4-2 win, with goals coming from Alex Ovechkin, Jason Chimera, Marcus Johansson and TJ Oshie. Braden Holtby turned aside 32 shots from the Lightning to earn the victory. He will return to the crease on Saturday to play the Leafs.

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

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