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Game Journal: Game 37 - Blues vs. Maple Leafs

by Chris Lund / Toronto Maple Leafs

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

Toronto Maple Leafs

40 Grabner - 43 Kadri - 47 Komarov
21 van Riemsdyk - 42 Bozak - 15 Parenteau
26 Winnik - 33 Arcobello - 19 Lupul
23 Matthias - 24 Holland - 28 Boyes

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

45 Bernier
30 Bibeau

St. Louis Blues

20 Steen - 26 Stastny - 91 Tarasenko
21 Berglund - 42 Backes - 56 Paajarvi
15 Fabbri - 12 Lehtera - 36 Brouwer
23 Jaskin - 28 Brodziak - 75 Reaves

19 Bouwmeester - 27 Pietrangelo
55 Parayko - 22 Shattenkirk
41 Bortuzzo - 4 Gunnarsson

34 Allen
1 Elliott

2:45 PM: Jake Gardiner spoke to the media today following Saturday's morning skate. Here's what he had to say...

Leafs TV

What has allowed to the blueline to contribute offensively in recent games?
I think we're getting pucks through -- obviously you saw Dion's goal last game. It wasn't the hardest shot but it was placed correctly and a good screen from our forwards and it's creating offence for us.

On choosing when to jump into the play:
I think it's just picking your spots and not necessarily jumping in all the time but at the right times. You don't want to be careless out there, you just want to choose your spots.

How important is lateral movement to finding shooting lanes?
That's huge, you watch -- like I said earlier -- Phaneuf walk along the blueline from the right side, a lot of times he gets the puck through and that's just because he's moving side-to-side and just sneaks it by that first guy. That creates chaos in front of the net.

On defenders creating havoc down low on offence:
It's a five man unit, you look at all the teams that are successful and do it defensively as a five man unit and offensively. That has been our goal this year.   

2:30 PM: Here's what Matt Hunwick had to say ahead of tonight's game...

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On picking up an injury in Pittsburgh:
It could have been a lot more serious than it was. Any time you get a skate anywhere near your face it can be dangerous. Luckily it was just my teeth and nothing else. We're able to move forward now.

Did you find a rhythm as the game moved on with the heavy workload?
I think so, a lot of my minutes last game were on the penalty kill and we don't want to take as many penalties as we have. I'm happy to go out and try to kill as many penalties as possible. They're tough minutes but I enjoy it and with a bit of a rhythm in terms of getting in the game, you obviously play a lot more and it's a lot easier on a night like that.

What did you do to negate the Pittsburgh power play after the early goal?
They have so much firepower, Pittsburgh does. That play in particular, they isolated us 2-on-1 at the net and Crosby made a great pass. Jonathan didn't have a chance. From that point forward I thought we played better in our structure, we were pretty good down ice, tried to limit their entries and how clean they came in and I thought our pressure was pretty good after that. If we can take away time and space from top players it gives us the advantage.

How important is the puck support when you retrieve the puck to get it out?
It has a lot to do with our structure and what we want to do in terms of breaking the puck out and trying to get it out of the zone. Part of that is guys being in the right spot and the other part is communication and guys letting you know they're right there. Then it's on the defenceman or whoever is on the wall to make that play and hopefully get the puck out. That's what we want, we want them to dump the puck in and it's up to us to go back and get it and hopefully clear it down the ice.

2:15 PM: James van Riemsdyk offered his thoughts ahead of tonight's game vs. St. Louis. Here's what he had to say...

Leafs TV

What's the game plan to negate the St. Louis blueline?
You've got to be aware of those guys when they're on the ice, in particular Shattenkirk and Pietrangelo. They're two of the better guys in the League at creating from the back end and making things happen. We've got to be aware when they're on the ice and keep them in front of you.

What have been the keys to your consistency recently and moving forward?
I just try every game to go out and skate as much as I can and shoot the puck as much as I can and try to play smart. Keep doing those things and go from there.

How long does it take to adjust a new coach?
This is the first I've been -- we knew about the change into the summer and there was a bit more time to create some expectations for him to tell us what he was expecting from his end from the players. That's good to have, that's the first time I've ever been in that situation where it was a new coach coming into the season. Getting comfortable with the levels of communication, as a player you just try to go play and work and do whatever they ask you to do. When there's open lines of communication and they make it clear what they want you to do it makes it pretty simple.

Is there a connection between your production being up and being used to the new coach?
Yeah definitely, the way our team has been playing as a five man unit, I think it allows guys talents to come out more. We're supporting each other around the puck offensively and defensively. It puts us in a much better position to play winning hockey.

2:00 PM: P-A Parenteau scored a goal in the last matchup between the Leafs and Blues. Here's what he had to say after Saturday's morning skate...

Leafs TV

On the team's play:
The team has been playing well lately and I think we've just got to keep doing what we're doing and build something to get in the race here for the playoffs.

What led to success in the last matchup with St. Louis?
I'm not sure, we didn't have that good of a start and we can't afford that against a team like that. We got lucky last game, we got back in the game and took over as the game went on. We have to be ready from the get-go and hopefully get a win.

How important is your role in helping the D get the puck and moving it up ice?
I think we've been doing a pretty good job of that all year. We try to help our D as much as we can. We know they can make plays back there when they have time. We try to help them, try to buy some time and when we do that we're successful because they give us the puck and we generate some offence out of it.

Is this club turning into a grinding club as you learn to win games?
I wouldn't go that far but I think we're playing with a little more grit. I think that's how you have to play in this day and age in this league to win some games. You've got to get to the net a little more than back in the day. That's where you're going to be rewarded and we're doing a pretty good job of that lately.

Are you enjoying the defence jumping into the rush and contributing offence?
It makes a huge difference for us. For a guy like me, and Tyler, we like to stop and hit the late guys coming in. When we see our D jumping in the play it opens the play up and creates offence for us.

1:00 PM: Here's what Leafs head coach Mike Babcock had to say ahead of Saturday's game between the Leafs and Blues...

Leafs TV

What created success in the last game against the Blues?
The last time we played St. Louis they played in Brooklyn the night before. A 45 minute bus ride to the plane and all those things, so maybe that had something to do with it. I don't know the answer to that. It's going to be a hard game tonight, we understand that and we need to be ready to play and ready to compete. There's not going to be a lot of room so if we do what we're supposed to we'll be right there.

What can you say about Roman Polak's consistency?
I think he's a real good pro. When you're looking at guys that do it right each and every day, obviously Hunny and Leo and him and Dion, those guys set the tone for us each and every day with professionalism. You don't have to talk to Polie or babysit him or hook him up or do anything, he just comes and plays every day, he plays hard, he's mean, he's a great penalty killer, an important part of our team. He's a real good man, a good teammate. You can't ask for more.

Was the win in St. Louis a momentum builder for the team?
I don't know, like I said they played in Brooklyn the night before. I was out for dinner, watched two periods out for dinner, crawled into bed, watched the third period and did they go into overtime? They went into overtime. I was loving it, I thought it was perfect. We couldn't get that arranged this time. But I don't know. You just try to get better each and every day.

Have you seen anything in van Riemsdyk with the increase in production recently?
I think he's skating better, I think he's more physical, I think he's more physical with the puck. He takes it to the net harder, he's at the net more. I think he's playing a better game, he's better defensively, backchecks better. I really like what has gone on for him. He's getting better and better each five game segment and he's doing more things than just scoring, which is real important.

Do some players take a little longer to adjust to a new coach?
I don't know the answer to that, you can ask them that. I just know that with each and every player you've got a development plan for him, you're trying to get him better and trying to help them get better. What I've found in life is if you want to get better, people are willing to help you get better. That's the same with players. If they're all in to want to get better, you're all in to help them. He has been great.

What's your message ahead of a tough matchup before the west coast swing?
I think the guys are pumped to go on the west coast trip so let's clear that up. The second thing is let's stay here and play well tonight before we go on that trip. To me it's just keep plugging. We play a game today and it's St. Louis and we're getting ready for the game today. Tomorrow is a travel day. I don't spend a whole lot of time thinking about all those things. Every night you play in the League, you look at the standings and the other team is good. You're going to have to grind it out and find a way to win. If we do things right, if we play right, we have a chance.

11:45 AM: The Toronto Maple Leafs open up their 2016 calendar tonight when they host the St. Louis Blues at Air Canada Centre.

The Leafs wrapped up 2015 with a 3-2 shootout win over the Pittsburgh Penguins in Pittsburgh. Toronto got goals from Dion Phaneuf and Jake Gardiner in the win. Jonathan Bernier put forth a stellar showing, making 39 saves in regulation and overtime before stopping three Penguins shootout attempts to earn the win. Bernier will get the start on Saturday against the Blues.

The Blues come to Toronto having lost their last game -- a 3-1 decision to the Minnesota Wild -- on New Years Eve. Kevin Shattenkirk had the lone St. Louis goal in the loss while Jake Allen stopped 26 of 28 Wild shots in the loss. Allen is expected to get the start against the Maple Leafs on Saturday night.

In the lone matchup between the two sides this season, the Leafs won a 4-1 game on the strength of a pair of goals from Nazem Kadri and 27 saves from Garret Sparks.

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

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