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Game Journal: Game 35 - Islanders vs. Maple Leafs

by Chris Lund / Toronto Maple Leafs

3:00 PM: Tonight's officials will be Steve Kozari and Rob Martell. Steve Barton and Scott Cherrey will be the linesmen. You can tune into tonight's game on TSN 4, listen on Sportsnet 590 The FAN and by following 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: 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 - 12 Bailey
86 Kulemin - 51 Nielsen - 21 Okposo
29 Nelson - 84 Grabovski - 18 Strome
17 Martin - 53 Cizikas - 15 Clutterbuck

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

1 Greiss
33 Gibson

1:15 PM: Leafs TV caught up with Leafs defenceman Morgan Rielly on Tuesday morning. Here's what he had to say...

Leafs TV

What did you learn about the Islanders from Sunday's game?

They're a good team, they're deep, they have lots of skill. Obviously Tavares is a dangerous player and you have to take his time and space away. We've got to do what we did last time and grind them, play our game and work hard.

What has been the turnaround for the team over the last two months?

I think the way we're working. We're playing the system, we're playing the structure, we're working hard, we're playing for each other, we want to win every night and we believe we have a chance to win each game. That really goes a long way. I think that we've got to keep doing what we're doing. We're working hard, playing our game and it's paying off.

What do you think will prevent another poor second half this season?

There's no crystal ball that will determine what will happen. We've just got to keep doing what we're doing, we can't change now. We've been playing well lately, we've got to keep doing that and not worry about what has happened in the past. We've got to worry about our next game and what we can do to win every night. Keep to the system, keep to the structure, keep working hard, play for each other and the rest will take care of itself.

1:00 PM: Brad Boyes recorded 35 points in his 48 games with the Islanders. Here's what he had to say ahead of Tuesday's tilt with one of his former clubs...

Leafs TV

What's the key to survival when you're playing one of the top lines in hockey?

You've got to play in their end is the biggest thing and, if we're not playing in their end, give them no space. The way we play is we play tight on the other players, give them no space, make sure we take away their speed and don't let them get to the net. They got that goal standing in front of the net last game so if we can box guys out and let our goalie see it, I think that has been a key for us and that's what Mike has been teaching us throughout this whole season.

How do you make life easier for your defencemen against this group?

As forwards if we turn the puck over at their blueline, they're going to counter quickly. They've got D that can not only skate but move the puck well, give it up to their forwards who have a lot of speed coming through. You make life easier for our defencemen and our forwards getting pucks in, playing in their end, don't give them the opportunity to pick up speed through the neutral zone.

How important was structure and five-man play to Sunday's win?

If we stick together, we're moving as five, then that just makes the zone smaller when they have the ice. It's a term Mike likes to use is just condense it when they're around when we don't have the puck so they're turning into our guys. When they do that we can box them out and make sure they're not getting to our net. In other cases once we get the puck, spread out, come up the ice quickly and create some space. Again, when you're playing good teams, fast teams, top teams like the Island, it's a matter of us controlling the puck properly and taking away their speed.

12:45 PM: Here's what Leafs forward Joffrey Lupul had to say following Tuesday's morning skate...

Leafs TV

What will you remember about the calendar year of 2015?

Someone asked me this yesterday and it's funny because I remember the first thing I did was tear my MCL on I think January 1 in Boston -- December 31st. It didn't start very well. Obviously it has been a bit of a whirlwind. If you're asking me at the end of last year if it's going to be -- if we were coming back here with Mike Babcock as our coach and Lou Lamoriello as the GM it wouldn't seem realistic. It was an interesting offseason and this year has been a lot of fun. We're enjoying playing again. I think a lot of guys lost that at the end of last year and you can see you've got a lot of guys smiling and joking around and, again, ideally we'd want more wins but it's a long season and we think we're on the right track.

Has the defensive zone structure and work ethic made playing more enjoyable?

For sure, that has been a key for us. I think even more than the defensive zone, it's been the neutral zone. We've been eliminating teams' speed and trying to not let them enter our zone and transition that into offence for ourselves. I think we've gotten better and better at that as the months have gone on.

Is that neutral zone play especially important against an Islanders team that prides itself on speed?

Yeah, they're a really fast team throughout their lineup. They're fast and physical and it's something we've got to do to -- we did it the other night --  to have success against their top guys is to slow them down through the neutral zone and just make things tough on them. They're good players. Tavares in particular is going to make plays but we certainly don't want to give them anything for free.

12:30 PM: James van Riemsdyk spoke with the media following Tuesday's skate. Here's what he had to say...

Leafs TV

On the change in the team's play:

I think with us this year as a team, we seem to have the puck more. I think that just goes to playing as a five man unit much better. Last year we seemed to maybe freewheel it a little more and for whatever reason all five guys on the ice weren't on the same page at all times. This year it seems to be better, that's why we're having the puck a lot more.

Are you noticing a change because of the possession and because of the system?

Yeah definitely, everyone is better with the puck than without it. Obviously you want to play to your strengths and when you have the puck the other team doesn't have a chance to score. I think that has been a big change for us this year, we've been controlling the play a little bit more and that's definitely the one thing I've noticed.

What has been the key to getting the puck out of the D zone and getting on offence?

That has been key. Our D this year have done a really good job of making those little plays and 10-foot passes to really help us transition where we're not just chopping it out of the zone up the wall. We're making those plays up the middle of the ice and backing the other team off. I think that has been key is playing together and being an option for the other guys on the ice. You make things a lot easier when you do that.

Is Bozak's ability to see the ice an underrated asset?

Definitely -- or not underrated, I've played with him for three years so I've appreciated it for -- I've been on the receiving end of many of those passes that he has had, those great looks. We seem to be able to read off each other pretty well and kind of have that sense of where the other guy is going to be without seeing him there.

12:00 PM: Here's what Leafs head coach Mike Babcock had to say following Tuesday's morning skate.

Leafs TV

Are you seeing defensive improvement in Bozak's game?

For sure, most of us in life are works in progress so we're all trying to get better each and every day. He's the same. What I like about him is he's been competitive, he has tried to be detail oriented and in doing so he has found his game within what we're trying to do. I think that's a big test, when things change on you you've got to get back to what to you perceive as your game but you've got to do it within the framework of the team. He has done a nice job.

What have you seen from the top-six that has impressed you in the last couple of games?

Well, I mean I said this to you guys yesterday, let's not get carried away here. It ebbs and flows and goes good and then it doesn't go good sometimes and sometimes you're working just as hard. This is what I do know about life -- if you've got 'er going good, work twice as hard to keep 'er going good. If you've got 'er going bad, work twice as hard to get 'er going good. So what's the message in all of that? Work twice as hard.

On coaching John Tavares at the Olympics:

I think about all good players is they're ultra-competitive and they all want to be good and they want to learn and they want to get better. He got hurt so I didn't get to see it all happen obviously but he's a real good player. Him, like everybody else in the business, is you want to win championships, you want to be a good player on a team that's really good and wins championships. That's the goal for all of us, it's not easy, they only let one team out of 30 win each year.

Do you spend much time looking at the standings?

Not as much as you'd think. I spend time knowing what's going on in the League. I'm trying to find out who's doing things better than us and stealing from it, make our team better and what am I missing. That's what I spend time on. I've got a bunch of people here that give me so much information every day that I've got to sort out what's usable and what's not. I definitely go through the stats every day before every game to figure out what's going on in the League.

On playing a team back-to-back:

Any time you play a team back-to-back it's always harder. When you have success and the other team didn't, if you're a competitor at all, you dig in. That's what you do. One team usually digs in after a loss and the other team usually feels good about themselves and so at the end the challenge for us today is we've got to up the ante. We know the game is going to be a high level game and we came out on the right side of the game last game, it was tight. Tonight I expect it to be tight. We've got to find a way. We need to be better than we were the other night to have success.

11:45 PM: The Toronto Maple Leafs kick off a back-to-back with the second leg of a home-and-home tonight, which sees the Leafs host the New York Islanders in a rematch of Sunday's game.

The Leafs won Sunday's game by a 3-1 score in Brooklyn at Barclays Center. The Leafs got goals from Tyler Bozak, Michael Grabner and James van Riemsdyk in the win while Jonathan Bernier made 25 saves in the win. He will return to the crease on Tuesday night after picking up his third win in four games on Sunday night.

The Islanders got their lone goal from Nikolay Kulemin while Thomas Greiss made 35 stops in the win. He will get the start for the Islanders while Marek Zidlicky will come into the lineup for Brian Strait.

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

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