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Game Journal: Game 26 - Maple Leafs vs. Wild

by Chris Lund / Toronto Maple Leafs

5:30 PM: Dave Jackson and Ghislain Hebert will be tonight's referees while Brad Kovachik and Brian Murphy will be the linesmen. Those looking to tune into tonight's game can watch on TSN 4, listen on TSN 1050 and follow the Leafs on Twitter.

Paul Hendrick checks in from St. Paul, Minn., to get you set for tonight's game. Take a look...

5:00 PM: James Reimer is set to return to the crease for the Maple Leafs tonight. Leafs TV caught up with him below...

4:00 PM: Here are tonight's projected lineups for the Leafs and Wild.

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

34 Reimer
31 Sparks

Minnesota Wild

11 Parise - 64 Granlund - 29 Pominville
16 Zucker - 9 Koivu - 22 Niederreiter
26 Vanek - 3 Coyle - 14 Fontaine
7 Porter - 56 Haula - 18 Carter

20 Suter - 25 Brodin
6 Scandella - 46 Spurgeon
39 Prosser - 24 Dumba

40 Dubnyk
35 Kuemper

3:45 PM: Leafs defenceman Jake Gardiner returns home to face the Wild tonight. Here's what he had to say...
Leafs TV

Who does Minnetonka [Gardiner's high school] play this week, did you check the schedule?
No, I haven't, I should probably know that but I haven't looked at the schedule yet.

Is there no greater state for hockey when you look back on your experiences?
Yeah this is always one of my favourite trips. Obviously playing in front of a lot of home fans and a lot of my family and friends are here. It's a lot of fun.

Do you have guys looking to you for advice for what to do while they're here?
No we got in pretty late last night, I keep telling them the summer is a lot nicer than the winter because it's pretty cold right now. We're probably just going to take a nap and prepare for the game today anyways.

Did your dad have a rink built for you here?

Yeah, ever since I can remember. We moved onto the lake when I was eight years old and all through high school we had a rink so it was great skating outdoors. That's one of the benefits of this cold weather.

How do you find preparing your body for back-to-backs?

Yeah, it's always hard to sleep after games. I don't know what it is, whether it's the late coffee or adrenaline or sometimes you'd like to have a game back like last night, I've been thinking about that a little bit. It's always tougher to sleep when you're going back-to-back for sure.

Where would you guys like to be better tonight?

I think everywhere. We weren't great last night. Box outs in our own zone, holding guys up, obviously we didn't score enough goals either too. We can just be better all around.

Is there a boost with Reimer coming back?
Sparksy was good too, we didn't help him at all last night. He didn't have a chance on a lot of those goals. Reims has been great for us and we're excited to have him back too.

3:30 PM: Here's Leafs forward Peter Holland ahead of Thursday's game in Minnesota...

Leafs TV

Is it a reminder of how fine a line it is to produce given how many chances your line had last night?
Yeah, we had just been talking as a line to stick with it. I thought, not just last game, but over the past few games we've created some good opportunities 5-on-5. We haven't been rewarded necessarily with the puck going in the net but I thought we've done a good job creating some momentum for our team. It seems like sometimes we've gone out there, had a good shift in their zone and our team has kind of followed suit after that. We just want to stick with it and at some point the puck is going to find the back of the net for us too.

Do you sense Reimer is pumped to get back in the net?
I think he's looking forward to it, yeah. I think any time you're hurt you're looking forward to getting back in the lineup obviously and he wants to come back in and re-establish himself and get back to the way he was playing before he got hurt.

Was there too much speed in the third from Winnipeg last night?

I just thought we didn't do a good enough job of holding them up. They did a good job of getting through the neutral zone and getting in on our defencemen and we needed to do a better job of slowing them down and making sure our D had more time. Just talking to our defence more and letting them know where we were. We didn't get out of our end as fast as we wanted to and they're obviously good enough that they capitalized on their opportunities.

Is it tough for you to get to bed and get ready for a second game in a back-to-back?
It depends. It's definitely tough to get to bed after any game just because your adrenaline is going. Usually it's not until the wee hours of the morning that you finally get to sleep and then you mix in the plane ride and the travel and it can definitely be tough and grueling on the mind and body. That's the nature of the sport so we've got to make sure we're putting our best foot forward tonight and coming out with a better effort... Ideally you get seven or eight [hours of sleep] -- I don't know. We get to go back to bed after this so I don't know.

On Mike Yeo's comments on the similarities between Toronto and Detroit as a good sign:

Yeah, for sure. Obviously when Mike came over he brought a lot of the same systems he had in Detroit and at the beginning of the year before we had our own video clips we did a bunch of clips from Detroit so I'm sure he's modelling our systems pretty closely to how he did last year's and previous years with the Red Wings. 

3:15 PM:
Maple Leafs centre Tyler Bozak gets set to play his 400th game tonight. Here he is on the milestone...

Leafs TV

How quickly has 400 games gone by for you?

Yeah, it has, it's gone really quick. I'm getting old now. It has been a great experience, hopefully I've got a lot more left.

Did you ever think this was a possibility coming out of Denver?
After my second year I kind of had an idea, I didn't know how long I'd play or if I'd make it, but I knew there was an opportunity there. That was nice, it actually worked out that I wasn't drafted and was able to narrow down my choices. I'm very happy I picked here and it has gone good so far. Hopefully I can keep playing more games and stay healthy.

What was Joe Nieuwendyk's selling job like to you when he visited you in college?

It was a big part of it, he and Burkie was a big part of it as well. They were two guys I respected a lot and they were honest with me. That was one of the most important things. They were great in the process and everything like that.

You'd like the team to do better but has this year been rewarding for you?
We've still got to win more games. In my time here we've only made the playoffs once and it was a great experience and it's something we really want to get back to. We've got to win more as a group and get better each and every day.

Did you know this milestone was coming up?

I actually had no idea until they said it but it's nice. It's cool. I'm sure my parents are happy about it.

How do you find the turnaround in a back-to-back?
I'm used to it now, I've never really had a problem sleeping or anything like that. I actually don't mind back-to-backs, I'd rather play games than practice most of the time and, especially when you play like we did last night, you want to have a game the next day instead of a few days off so it's nice that we're able to get back at it. We have to have a better effort.

Do you take comments like Mike Yeo's that it's hard to tell Toronto and Detroit apart on film as a sign that you're headed in the right direction?
Yeah, absolutely. I think we've gotten better since day one. Obviously last game wasn't a good tale of that, we didn't play well, but we're starting to do things a lot better as a group, we're playing a lot better as a team and learning the system well. We still have a long way to go but it's nice to see the progress and hopefully we keep getting better.

3:00 PM: Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock spoke the media following a Leafs team meeting at Xcel Energy Center on Thursday morning. Here's what he had to say...

Leafs TV

Has there been enough of a sample size from the club to know what happened last night can be corrected?
Well we just showed enough clips to show that wasn't very good and wasn't us. If you don't do things right -- with the kind of group we have, if you don't do things right you can't have success. In the end, the game is right there. It's 2-1 going into the third and we dominate the first shift of the third period and yet we find a way to -- it was lopsided like you can't believe and we didn't look after the kid in net. So you've got to be a lot better. You don't like to have nights like that but obviously that's a good reminder for us. We play a good Minny team here today and we've got to get ready to play.

Do you expect a boost from Reimer coming back from injury?
Obviously he has been real good for us and I think he's still feeling good about himself. Any time you've been off it's a little bit harder but we have to play well in front of him and give him an opportunity.

Bozak plays his 400th game tonight. How has he progressed as a player?

Well obviously he has been a guy, when you're playing against them I knew who he was. I thought he had not a bad night even though they didn't get much done last night. I think he's an important player, he's been getting better for us and a guy trying to do things right since I got here so I appreciate that fact. You need some of your veteran guys to do things right so everyone else has someone to follow. Good for him and he's going to have his hands full tonight. They've got a good team here.

Do you need more offence from the Spaling line or is their defence enough?

I really thought they were giving us minutes at the start of the year in the offensive zone. The last two nights before last night they spent their whole time in the defensive zone so I'm smart enough to know that's going on too. Over time if that keeps going on you don't play them in all situations as much, you just can't. I thought last night they were better in that way. Our third and fourth lines were our best two lines last night by a mile. Those guys should have had two goals for us last night and, in the end, that's a positive thing but we need -- [Spaling] was hurt for a while, Winnie was hurt and Lupes normally played on that line and they haven't been as good. That's just the way it is.

Same lineup tonight?
Other than the goalie, same lineup though.

2:45 PM: The Maple Leafs complete another back-to-back set on Thursday night as they take on the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center.

The Leafs took a loss on Wednesday night when they dropped a 6-1 decision to the Winnipeg Jets. Michael Grabner had the lone Leafs goal while Garret Sparks stopped 29 shots in his second career game. James Reimer is expected to return to the goal on Thursday.

The Wild last played on Tuesday and edged out a 2-1 win over the Chicago Blackhawks on the road. Jason Pominville and Ryan Suter had the Minnesota goals while Devan Dubnyk stopped 30 shots to earn the victory. Dubnyk is slated to get the start on Thursday night as well.

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

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