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Game Journal: Game 24 - Oilers vs. Maple Leafs

by Chris Lund / Toronto Maple Leafs

3:15 PM: Greg Kimmerly and Chris Rooney will be your officials tonight, while Vaughan Rody and Derek Amell will handle the linesmen duties. Those looking to tune in to tonight's game can watch on Sportsnet, listen on TSN 1050 and follow the Leafs on Twitter.

With the Leafs getting set to host the Oilers at Air Canada Centre, Paul Hendrick and Bob McGill check in to preview tonight's game. Take a look...

3:00 PM: Here are tonight's projected lineups for the Maple Leafs and Oilers.

Toronto Maple Leafs

21 van Riemsdyk - 43 Kadri - 47 Komarov
23 Matthias - 42 Bozak - 15 Parenteau
26 Winnik - 16 Spaling - 40 Grabner
24 Holland -56 Froese - 28 Boyes

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

31 Sparks
45 Bernier

Edmonton Oilers

4 Hall - 29 Draisatl - 16 Pucell
67 Pouliot - 93 Nugent-Hopkins - 14 Eberle
28 Korpikoski - 55 Letestu - 26 Pakarinen
54 Khaira - 51 Lander - 23 Hendricks

25 Nurse - 2 Sekera
77 Klefbom - 5 Fayne
88 Davidson - 19 Schultz

39 Nilsson
33 Talbot

2:30 PM:
Leafs centre Byron Froese spoke to the media following Monday's morning skate. Here's what he had to say...

Leafs TV

On Garret Sparks’ goaltending style:

He’s a big guy; he’s a big body in the net. He’s tough to score on because he’s so big, and just plays solid. I would say he plays more of a relaxed style of goaltending, but that usually pays dividends for goalies as they’re not jittery and jumpy, and hopping, and trying too hard on pucks.

You have had a similar rise to the NHL as Sparks, playing in the ECHL as well. What is going through Garret’s mind?

I mean, it’s definitely been a whirlwind for him, talking to him, just like it was for me, too. But, he definitely made a quick transition, but I think he earned it. His playing this year in the AHL has definitely earned him a spot, and you’ve got to take you hat off to him, he’s done a good job.

How much of protecting Sparks begins with disrupting Edmonton with the forecheck?

Definitely. Our whole game is wanting to play offense. Having the puck in the offensive zone is all about good defense, starting with the puck. You know, we want to give [Sparks] the best chance we can. We always want to help out our D, so, doing our job in the neutral zone and the offensive zone is going to pay dividends for us.

Does your faceoff approach change depending on where you are on the ice, or the situation at hand?

No, I don’t think I change my mindset at all. I think that stays the same. It’s just, sometimes it’s puck-luck like that, and, it’s also repetition. I’m used to taking draws in the defensive-zone, I’m used to having that pressure situation on me. So I think, maybe I bear down a little bit more, but I would like to say that I don’t.  You want to bear down in the offensive-zone anyways. You always want to start with the puck: When you start with the puck, you’re on offence.

2:00 PM: Leafs forward Shawn Matthias spoke to the media following Monday's morning skate. Here's what he had to say...

Leafs TV

What will be the penalty-killing unit’s focus tonight against a potent Edmonton special teams unit?

Just pay attention to details. We’ll have a meeting tonight, and make sure we know it. If we have any problems, to ask questions. I think it’s tough when you give up a couple goals on the penalty-kill now in new-age hockey. Special teams are so important, so you need both of them firing at all cylinders every single game.

How important is limiting time and space in the neutral zone to shutting down the Oilers’ quick offensive transitions?

Yeah, they’ve got a lot of speed, a lot of talent. We’re going to have to play a heavy game. I mean, they’ve got a lot of speed. They’ve got some guys that, you know, put up some big points in this league. So, we’re going to have to have a hard night and, play hard in the corners, and play the style that we’ve been playing. If we’re playing like we can, we’ve had success.

On the evolving chemistry with his linemates, Tyler Bozak and P.A. Parenteau:

Yeah, we didn’t have a great game last game together, and we know that. We talk everyday, and we’re very positive with each other, and we’re having a lot of fun playing with one another. We want to be good tonight. We need to rebound after a game where we didn’t have a lot of scoring chances. We’re excited to get back out there playing together, and I’m sure it will be a better game. We’ve got a rookie goaltender, whose playing his first game tonight, it’s great for him. I know all the boys are fired up for him, and we’re going to be playing hard in front of him.

1:45 PM: Maple Leafs rookie goaltender Garret Sparks will make his NHL debut on Monday night when the Leafs take on the Oilers.

In 11 regular season games with the Toronto Marlies, Sparks has been stellar with an 8-2-1 record, recording a 1.90 goals-against average and .938 save percentage in the process. In 2014-15 he was the ECHL's save percentage leader with a .936 mark in 36 games with the Orlando Solar Bears. He went 21-7-2 in those 36 games.

Opposing Sparks will be Oilers goaltender Anders Nilsson. In 12 games with the Oilers this season, Nilsson is 5-6-1 with a 2.75 goals-against average and .911 save percentage. He has never faced the Leafs in his career.

Here's what Sparks had to say following Monday's morning skate...

Leafs TV

What are your feelings ahead of your first career NHL start?

Excitement. You know, I’ve been playing hockey for a long time, and, this is the coolest thing that’s come of it yet, so, very excited.

Have you played through in your head, what it will feel like when you first step on the ice tonight?

Probably about a million times as a kid, but, I’m just trying to stay composed and play my game tonight, and do the things that got me here.

How did you sleep last night ahead of your first NHL start?

Good. I always sleep well.

How far removed are you from the Garret Sparks of 12 months ago, to where you are now?

I’d like to think I’m just a more well-rounded, better version of myself.

Any special moments when speaking to friends and family before your first NHL start?

Just talking to my parents, and finally getting to enjoy the moment, I guess. Especially today with all [the media], it’s just really exciting.

Any former coaches or players offer up any advice to you?

Yeah, I’ve talked to a couple close buddies who have done this in the past couple months themselves, so it’s good to have people that have been through it and know what they’re talking about. It’s good to have voices like that to listen to.

On the best advice he had been given:

Just to go out there and play your game, and to do what got you here.

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

Leafs TV

How important is structure in giving Sparks an opportunity to win tonight?

Well we want to play well for sure. He's got an opportunity like lots of kids have had before him so it's up to him to grab it. He's got the best save percentage in the American Hockey League, he's playing all the time down there. That's a step before this step. Obviously we're in need of some saves so we're going to have to play well in front of him for sure, but it's an opportunity for him. All of us at one time, no matter what we were doing, were looking for an opportunity.

Is there anything you do to calm Sparks down?

I don't know, every other kid you bring up you put him in the lineup and watch him play.

How long does it take defence corps to adjust to a new goalie?

Well I don't think we should worry about that one bit. I think we should play well and look after the rest. Reims isn't a big puck mover anyway when he's in the net so I don't think we have to worry or concern ourselves with that. The bottom line is he gets an opportunity, we get an opportunity, we feel it's out best chance.

Where do you go from here with Bernier?

Yeah, I don't know -- time. That's a real good question. He has probably never been through anything like this. Well, I know he hasn't because I've been talking to him, so he has got to rebound but at what expense? You know what I mean? We've got to figure that out and I just know that Sparks gets an opportunity today and the beauty of this business is the truth today isn't necessarily the truth tomorrow. We'll get up tomorrow and go from there.

Is there anything you'll be looking for from Sparks when you watch him play?

Just the puck staying out of the net. When it stays out I'm happy. I don't care how he does it or anything like that. He's a big man. Like I said, he's got off to a good start in the American Hockey League, I think there's a whole bunch of people that I've coached over the years that you bring in, you give an opportunity and some guys grab it and some guys don't. The guys that grab it go on to have good careers. It's up to him.

Could Bernier be a Dubnyk who bounces back?

Bernie's numbers in the past show that he's a good goaltender. So, for whatever reason, the end of last year and the start of this year, I don't think it's a physical thing at all. That's great and easy for me to say. You've got to help the guy fix it. Now, the question I answered already, at what expense? It's a team game but what expense? You can go with him every night, that's easy, but is it the right thing to do? I think we did quite a bit of that.

What do you see from the Oilers who are in a similar spot to your team?

I don't think we're similar teams at all in the fact that they're in a situation where they're probably ahead of us that way as far as prospects. They've had their guys there for a while. Now they add the kids, obviously one of the best guys in hockey is not playing here tonight. They've been drafting very high for a long time, they have those pieces in so I think they're a little bit different from us that way. We have more of our kids on the farm or in juniors still. I watched their previous two games, they played one in Detroit and one in Pittsburgh, I thought they played well and have good team speed. They have really good team speed. They'll be a challenge. Everyone is a challenge for us, I think that's the same they find in the League, everyone is a challenge. We've got to get prepared and play well.

Do you see your style in Todd McLellan's style?

Well obviously we were together a long time. I've known him a long time, he's a good, good coach, a good man. I had a nice chat with him here this morning. He's trying to get his team to play the way he thinks is the right way and I'm doing the same. I think just because guys have worked for you -- whether that be Paul MacLean or Todd or Bill Peters or Blash [Jeff Blashill] -- the key for them to be successful is to be themselves. Take what they can but be themselves when they go their places. Todd has been doing this for a long time, he's been doing it for a long time before he ever got together with me. I've known him since Swift Current and junior and all that stuff. He's a good coach.

Have the way you handle goalies changed from early in your career and what changed it?

Just experience. I've been lucky, I've had lots of good goalies. I was with Francois Allaire and, whatever you think of him, he is one of the best coaches I've ever been with, period -- coaches. In Anaheim, he found us goalies so I started in the National Hockey League and had Giggy [J-S Giguere] and I had Gerber and they were outstanding. And then I've had Ozzy [Chris Osgood] and Hasek and Howard and Mrazek and now I've got these guys and we've had a number of different goalie coaches over the years. They've all been different in their own way and they've all had their own methodology about how they go about their business. It's interesting, it's kind of like a coach -- when the team wins, when the goalie makes his saves, he's doing a good job. Sometimes that's not necessarily the truth. You're doing what you can to figure out the guys you have and get them to play the best they can possibly play. I think anytime you evaluate a coach, you look at the team and say is everyone playing the best they can. In our situation we don't have Bernie playing as good as he can. It's real simple, we've got to do a better job.

11:45 AM: The Toronto Maple Leafs return to action on Monday night at Air Canada Centre when they play host to the Edmonton Oilers.

The Leafs are coming off of a 4-2 loss to the Washington Capitals on Saturday night. Peter Holland and Leo Komarov scored the goals for the Maple Leafs while Jonathan Bernier stopped 19 shots in the loss. Leafs goaltender Garret Sparks will make his NHL debut on Monday night against the Oilers. He was recalled from the Toronto Marlies to fill in for goaltender James Reimer on Saturday.

The Oilers needed the shootout but won their last game by a 3-2 score in Pittsburgh over the Penguins. Edmonton got goals from Lauri Korpikoski and Leon Draisaitl while Anders Nilsson stopped 39 shots to earn the win. Cam Talbot is expected to start in goal against the Maple Leafs.

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

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