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Game Journal: Game 33 - Maple Leafs vs. Coyotes

by Chris Lund / Toronto Maple Leafs

7:00 PM: Tonight's officials will be Graham Skilliter and Tim Peel while Kiel Murchison and Brian Mach will be the linesmen. Those looking to tune into tonight's game can watch on TSN 4, listen on Sportsnet 590 The FAN and follow the Leafs on Twitter.

Paul Hendrick gets you set from Glendale with his Maple Leafs Game Preview.

6:45 PM: Here are tonight's projected lineups for the Maple Leafs and Coyotes.

Toronto Maple Leafs

40 Grabner - 43 Kadri - 47 Komarov
21 van Riemsdyk - 42 Bozak - 15 Parenteau
26 Winnik - 24 Holland - 19 Lupul
23 Matthias - 56 Froese - 28 Boyes

51 Gardiner - 3 Phaneuf
44 Rielly - 20 Corrado
52 Marincin - 46 Polak

45 Bernier
30 Bibeau

Arizona Coyotes

16 Domi - 50 Vermette - 89 Boedker
8 Rieder - 9 Tikhonov - 10 Duclair
24 Chipchura - 15 Gordon - 19 Doan
48 Martinook - 12 Richardson - 17 Downie

23 Ekman-Larsson - 5 Murphy
34 Dahlbeck - 45 Elliott
2 Grossmann - 26 Stone

35 Domingue
29 Lindback

6:30 PM: Leafs forward Joffrey Lupul recorded a goal on Monday night in Colorado. Here's what he had to say ahead of Tuesday's game in Glendale...

Leafs TV

Is the team's increase in scoring an indicator of progress?

I think our power play is playing better so that adds to your offensive output and some of it is luck. There are times when goals come in bunches, there are times when it's going to be harder to come by, but we're finding ways to win hockey games so whether we do it 2-1 or we do it 5-4, that's the important part for us. Obviously there are some things we'd like to clean up defensively but that's how it goes. Sometimes your penalty kill can win you a game, sometimes your power play, sometimes it's goaltending. We're lucky to be on a good streak right now.

How was the communication last night on your goal with Leo's back to you?

He kind of knows -- that's the spot where I'm supposed to be on the power play so it was a good play by him. He stopped the puck, I think it was a deflected puck, he stopped it at the side of the net and it would have been easy for him to try to jam it in the net but that's a really good, skilled play by him.

On the even-strength success of the team:

As far as scoring goals go we're on a good run right now, but like I said these things don't seem to last too long. Sometimes you score a bunch, sometimes you seem like you can't get it to go in. It's about our overall game and for the most part we've been happy with that.

Is the next step for the team being rewarded in the standings?

For sure, I think we're 4-0-2 right now in our last six so we're starting to get somewhere. This would be a big win before the break, it gets us back to .500 and it doesn't seem like much but given the way we started that's a pretty significant accomplishment to be there. Obviously that's not going to be good enough but to get back in where you start looking at the standings thinking we're back in this thing, that does a lot for you... It's going to be a long second -- we're not even at the halfway point so there are going to be more ups and downs for our team and other teams as well. You look at a team like Montreal that started 10-0 and now -- they've built themselves a good cushion and now they've hit a rough patch. Those things happen throughout a season.

On the difference between this point streak and last year's hot streak:

I think this team has done a good job of taking things one game at a time. I know that's a cliche. We lost the two games in overtime and at home and that was pretty disappointing because we played pretty well in those games and we only managed to get one point in those games. I thought we bounced back pretty well.

Where are you in grasping what Mike is selling at this point in the year?

I think we're doing a pretty good job. Again, you look at the standings and we'd like to be -- it feels like we've played better than where we are in the standings but that's life. We've got to continue to grow and get better. All the other teams are going to keep getting better in the second half too. We've got to continue to get better every day if we want to hang around in this thing.

Do you like the kind of hockey you're being made to play?

Yeah, I like winning so if the system is giving us a chance to win every game, which I think it has been -- we haven't had many games where we've lost 4-0 or something. We've been in games the whole year and I think it's going to continue to be like that the whole year. We're going to play close games and we've got to be comfortable in close games and we're getting there.

6:15 PM: Here's what Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf had to say following Tuesday's team meeting...

Leafs TV

How gratifying is it to see the type of game Jake had last night?

I think it's a big game for him personally and it was a real solid game by our team. I'm really happy for Jake, those nights don't come around very often and it's a big accomplishment. Four points in a game for a defenceman, you don't see that often so I'm really happy for him.

What's the grasp like of what Mike is trying to do now?

I think it's progression and building as a group. I think that it started in training camp, there was a lot of information and a lot of change -- new systems, new coaching staff -- but overall I think our group has done a real good job of building our game to where we feel real good about the way that we play. When we play the way we're capable of playing and to the structure -- the biggest word would be structure -- when we play with structure that's put in front of us with our system, you can see that when we play that way. We're in a lot of hockey games and we're very competitive.

Is it more second nature now?

It's like anything -- habit. When you keep doing it over and over and over again, I think we practice a lot better than we do at the start of the year. That's just from being used to the drills that we're doing. It's becoming familiar with what he is asking of us and I think you can see a lot of growth in that area.

Is the next step seeing results in the standings?

I think we're just working day-in and day-out to keep building our game and we've got to keep playing that same style that gives us a chance and the points will come. I think you've seen that, we're building our game. We've got lots of work to do yet but I think that right now we feel good about where our game is at and we've got to finish this off before the break with a good effort and feel good about ourselves going into the Christmas break.

Is there a simple way you can define structure?

System -- we use the word structure but it's basically playing to the system in front of you. Besides getting into details of our system, I think everyone can see how we play, there are certain things we have to do in different areas of the rink that allow us to play our system and that's why we use the word structure. I don't think it's to hide anything or to be vague, we know it as structure but really it comes down to playing your system and how the coaching staff wants you to play the game... The biggest thing for us to play the way that we have to and the way we want to play is to play within our structure. That's to stick to the system that is put in front of us and it gives us a chance every night.

Is there a belief that if you stick to the structure things will turn around if you get down?

Yeah, we've done a good job of -- whether we get scored on first or we score first -- I think that you could see it last night, we've stuck to our game and we knew we could get back into the hockey game. That's something we're building and that's a thing that in our group we've got to continue to build because you've got to stay level, you've got to stay even keel and you've got to keep pushing. That's the thing with our group is that, last night I look at it as an example. We get down early but we continue to push, push, push and we found a way to win a hockey game on the road.

What does is say about Leo that he's scored and is still in the top-five in hits?

I can't say enough good things about Leo. It's well-deserved that he's getting the recognition he does deserve. He's putting the puck in the net for our team, he's playing an all-around game, he plays hard every day and he competes. He's a great teammate and I'm really happy for him that he's having the success that he's having and I hope he keeps doing it.

6:00 PM:
Leafs head coach Mike Babcock shared his thoughts following a team meeting in Arizona on Tuesday. Here's what he had to say...

Leafs TV

On Corrado and facing tough matchups tonight:

That's part of playing hockey is you want those opportunities. Let's see what he does. It's great to practice, it's great to be sheltered a little bit. Here's an opportunity. If we don't like it we can easily play Marty [Marincin] and Frankie together and we can put Polie [Roman Polak] with [Morgan Rielly] -- we've played Polie with Ries a ton anyway so we can do that too. To start with on a back-to-back night it would be nice if we played each D 20 minutes.

Are you liking your balance offensively?

We scored some power play goals last night but like you said at even-strength we've been better and you spend more time in the offensive zone. I didn't think our game last night -- we scored goals but I didn't think we were as good as we can be. We've got to be better tonight. They're a tighter checking, more structured team here and so we're going to have to be better. On back-to-back nights your structure has to protect you a bit more. We've got to take care of the puck better than we did last night and we'll have a chance to have success.

You've wanted guys to be rewarded for their play and they are. Is the next step rewards for the team in the standings?

I think we are but I think the big thing here is any way you look at it, since our first 10 things have gone fairly well for us. To me I just think you do good things and good things happen. You just worry about the process and everything looks after itself. Let's just keep working hard and doing good things. The biggest thing, and I said it yesterday and I'll say it again today, I said yesterday we're getting home at 6:15 but they tell me now we're getting home at 5:15. We're getting home an hour earlier. But we're getting home at the same time whether we do it right or wrong. Why not just stay here and do it right? That to me is the biggest thing and this is all mental.

Is it possible you're further along the learning curve you thought you'd be?

I don't think about those things. I just think about we have a plan and I think about what the plan is and we try to adjust our plan every day as we get better and we learn new things. It takes as much time as it takes. Every time you're asked, someone wants to tell you when it's all going to happen. I can't tell you that. I just know that we're going to continue to get better and continue to build a product. As much as it's good to be doing well here, and I think maybe different than some head coaches, what I see going around with our prospects is exciting too. We've just got to keep building, keep building, keep building and in the end one day we'll wake up and we'll have a real program.

On Komarov's physical contributions:

I just think he's a real good player for us. He's real impressive and he's a real good man and guys mentioned yesterday him and Polie and Hunny and those guys, the more guys you have who do it right every day, the more that gravitate towards them and you want to end up with 23 guys doing it right.

Do you put a lot of stock in real-time stats?

Not as much but we do our own stuff so I'm pretty dialed in on what's going on.

On the impact of Jim Hiller on the power play:

Yeah, real good. Obviously we'd like our power play to be a lot better -- it can be a lot better. We've scored seven goals against Colorado, last time we scored four goals against Colorado, then we took the next couple of weeks off on it. Let's just get refocused and get back at her here tonight.

5:30 PM: The Toronto Maple Leafs wrap up their schedule prior to the NHL's holiday break with a back-to-back that concludes tonight in Arizona when they face the Coyotes.

The Leafs are coming off of a 7-4 win over the Colorado Avalanche on Monday night. A hat trick from Tyler Bozak, two goals from Leo Komarov and individual tallies from Joffrey Lupul and James van Riemsdyk led the way offensively for the Leafs who also got 24 saves from Jonathan Bernier in the win. He returns to the net on Tuesday night in Glendale.

The Coyotes play their fifth consecutive home game tonight when they host the Leafs. Most recently they defeated the New York Islanders by a 1-0 score. Oliver Ekman-Larsson had the lone Coyotes goal while Louis Domingue made 25 saves to earn the shutout. He will get the start against the Leafs.

Stay tuned for updates from Mike Babcock, the Leafs and projected lineups.

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