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Game Journal: Game 34 - Maple Leafs vs. Islanders

by Chris Lund / Toronto Maple Leafs

3:45 PM: Tonight's officials will be Kelly Sutherland and Dean Morton while Shandor Alphonso and Pierre Racicot will be the linesmen. Those looking to catch tonight's game can watch on Sportsnet, listen on TSN 1050 and follow the Leafs on Twitter.

In the meantime, Paul Hendrick and Joe Bowen check in to preview tonight's game in Brooklyn. Take a look...

2:15 PM: Here are tonight's projected lineups for the Maple Leafs and Islanders.

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
2 Hunwick - 44 Rielly
52 Marincin - 46 Polak

45 Bernier
34 Reimer

New York Islanders

27 Lee - 91 Tavares - 21 Okposo
29 Nelson - 51 Nielsen - 18 Strome
86 Kulemin - 84 Grabovski - 12 Bailey
17 Martin - 53 Cizikas - 15 Clutterbuck

2 Leddy - 3 Hamonic
44 de Haan - 55 Boychuk
14 Hickey - 28 Zidlicky

1 Greiss
33 Gibson

1:45 PM: Michael Grabner played 297 games with the Islanders before being traded to the Leafs this season. Here's what he had to say ahead of his first game back...

Leafs TV

What made your five seasons with this club so good?

They gave me a fresh start, it's where my career really started. They were rebuilding at the time and they gave me all the opportunity to play. When you get the opportunity you've got to try to take it. I had some good memories here but that's what it is, memories. Now I'm going to focus on my new job here with the Maple Leafs and try to beat them tonight.

Is it weird to come in to this new building and see the Islanders logo?

Definitely, it's not really a homecoming in that way because the Coliseum was home. I only practiced here a couple of times for pre-season games. It definitely feels like another road game to me right now.

Do you talk to your former teammates about the new building?

I talked to them, it's definitely a change. Obviously we knew that before last season that it's going to be different and no one really knew what to expect and how every day life was going to be on a game day. I think they're handling it good but it's definitely a change from the five minute drive we had before.

On the last playoff game at Nassau Coliseum:

It was definitely a loud building. You saw it during the regular season, there were certain games and the playoffs -- against Pittsburgh the one year and Washington -- I think it was a good atmosphere to play in as a player. Like you said, it's been broken down and definitely needed some changes.

What changes have you felt personally the last few weeks?

Not much, I've just tried to stick with my game. I didn't try to switch anything around. I just tried to battle out of the scoring funk and got a couple of goals now. I've got to build off that and keep on playing.

Do you feel more confident when you do get the puck?

I think obviously when you don't score for a while you start squeezing the stick tighter to get one and once you get one it relaxes you a bit and gives you some confidence. It has been good the last few games.

Are shorthanded scoring opportunities a matter of reading the blueline?

Yeah, I think it's just you've got to outwork five guys on the ice. It's not an easy job but you've got to try to read where they're going to try to make their plays on the power play. Obviously we do a lot of pre-scout before to see what they want to do on the power play. Then it's just going to react to what they're doing out there.

On returning to play the Isles and the fans:

They have a good fanbase, they were some hardcore fans and it's going to be fun to play here. They're going to be loud and, like I said before, the memories I had there were great so it's going to be fun to play here.

How special would it be to score a goal here?

It would definitely make it special but I'll take the two points over a goal. If I score and we win that works but at the end of the day I just want to get the win here and help the team any way I can.

1:15 PM: Leafs forward P-A Parenteau played 161 games with the Islanders. Here's what he had to say before taking on his former team...

Leafs TV

On the new rink:

It's cool, I like the feel of it. It's a nice rink. A little better than what they had in the past. It's fun to be back, it's always nice to play against former teammates too.

What has enabled the team to create opportunities on the power play?

I think we're all feeling the puck pretty good in the offensive zone when it comes to the power play. Both units are playing really well so it's tough to defend when both units are going. We're playing a really good penalty kill tonight. They put a lot of pressure on you  and we're going to have to be sharp and move the puck well all night.

How do you carry the offence over from before the break?

You keep doing what you've been doing, which is shooting the puck quite a bit, playing with a lot of confidence and making plays. I think the big difference is we're not afraid to make plays, we're still pretty responsible in our own end, but we move the puck well and play with a lot of confidence.

What do you expect from the Islanders tonight?

I expect a lot of speed out of them. They have a lot of good players, especially up front. They've got guys like Leddy and Hamonic that can move pretty well on the back end as well. It's going to be a tough test for our team but I think we're up for it. I think we're feeling confident and hopefully we can keep it going.

On limiting time and space as a key:

I think we all know Johnny Boychuk can shoot the puck back there and John Tavares is one of the best players in the League. It's going to be important for us to limit time and space and play a good defensive game most importantly.

1:00 PM: Here's what Leafs head coach Mike Babcock had to say following Sunday's morning skate in Brooklyn...

Leafs TV

What are you looking for from your team early?

Just get started on time. Get prepared, Christmas break is over, we all had a great Christmas and enjoyed our families and the time off and now it's time to play. We had practice yesterday, a pre-game skate, there's no reason not to be ready.

What did you like about the way your team was playing in December?

I just thought we played hard most each and every night. I thought we were fairly solid defensively and had pretty good specialty teams. We've still got to tune up our penalty kill, I think we're getting better at that but we've still got to tune that up. Obviously we've got to find a way to continue to score goals. When you score goals it makes it easier for everyone. Continue to play well without the puck and compete hard.

How do you see tonight's special teams matchup affecting the game?

Obviously we're going to have to handle their pressure. They really pressure well. I like their penalty kill, they come at you hard and with good personnel. That's a test for our guys. I think we did a pretty good job preparing for it this morning here and now we've got to execute tonight. The great thing about the power play is for it to be real successful, successful is 25 per cent of the time. Let's just do our job.

What did you make of the building when you stepped onto the ice?

I don't know, I never thought much about it. I don't know where we are -- I know where we are -- but I don't know where we are just like you guys. I've never been here, I haven't walked around, I don't know much about it. Obviously it's something they felt they had to do. We're here to play and it doesn't make much difference to us.

How much confidence does a goal-scoring run give the team?

Yeah, I don't think that's realistic to maintain but I think there's times in the season when you get it going a little bit. I think it's real good for the guys when they look at their plus/minus, when they look at their stats and feel a little bit better about yourself. When you're not scoring at all, especially if you perceive yourself as a scorer, there's a lack of energy there. That's a positive thing for us. We know we've got to keep better as a team, there's a lot more in some guys, they've got more to give and we've got to find a way to get it out of them.

What's changed with van Riemsdyk's game over the last couple of games offensively?

I think he has a chance to be a real elite player in the League and he's got to take responsibility for that skillset each and every day and bring it every day and be a leader that way. There's a real challenge for the guys that have been blessed with a little more talent than the rest of the guys to make sure it shows each and every night. He's one of those guys.

Have you seen Bernier settle in after the rough start to the year?

Obviously he's been better here of late so he's got to keep going. We've got Reims back, I think Reims will be ready, he got out there today and another practice tomorrow and I think Reims is going to get cleared. When Reims get cleared there's a battle for who's going each and every night. The better job Bernie can do the better opportunity he has to play each and every night.

Have you been through what you've been through with Bernier with any other goalie?

I can't remember, I think Ken [Holland] shut Ossy [Chris Osgood] down one time for a while. In a different situation when you really need your goalie to win versus when you can win without him. Those are different scenarios. If you look around the League each and every year, there's always guys that got 'er going in net and there's guys that don't have 'er going in net. It's a hard thing mentally but you've got to figure out a way to be the best you're capable of being. That's all we ask of you is to be the best you're capable of being.

12:30 PM: The Toronto Maple Leafs return to action following the Christmas break on Sunday night when they visit the New York Islanders at Brooklyn's Barclays Center for the first time in team history.

The Leafs are coming off of a 3-2 loss to the Arizona Coyotes on Dec. 22. Goals scored by James van Riemsdyk and Nazem Kadri weren't enough offence for the Leafs who got 23 saves from Jonathan Bernier. Bernier will return to the crease tonight while James Reimer will suit up and be the backup for the first time since re-aggravating a lower body injury in his last start on Dec. 3.

The Islanders last played on Dec. 21 and won a 5-2 decision over the Anaheim Ducks at Barclays Center. Jaroslav Halak made 27 saves to backstop the win while the Islanders got goals from Cal Clutterbuck, Travis Hamonic, Brock Nelson, Josh Bailey and Matt Martin to earn the two points. Thomas Greiss is slated to get the start in goal for the Isles against the Maple Leafs.

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

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