Tonight's officials will be Chris Rooney and Greg Kimmerly. Scott Cherrey and Steve Miller will be the linesmen. Those looking to tune in to tonight's game can watch on TSN 4, listen on Sportsnet 590 The FAN and follow the Leafs on Twitter.
Paul Hendrick and Bob McGill get you set for puck drop with their Maple Leafs Game Preview. 2:45 PM:
Here are tonight's projected lineups for the Maple Leafs and Blackhawks. Toronto Maple LeafsForwards
23 Matthias - 42 Bozak - 15 Parenteau
40 Grabner - 43 Kadri - 47 Komarov
26 Winnik - 24 Holland - 19 Lupul
32 Leivo - 56 Froese - 28 BoyesDefence
51 Gardiner - 3 Phaneuf
2 Hunwick - 44 Rielly
52 Marincin - 46 PolakGoaltenders
45 BernierChicago BlackhawksForwards
65 Shaw - 19 Toews - 81 Hossa
72 Panarin - 15 Anisimov - 88 Kane
11 Desjardins - 24 Danault - 86 Teravainen
14 Panik - 70 Rasmussen - 28 GarbuttDefence
2 Keith - 4 Hjalmarsson
57 van Riemsdyk - 7 Seabrook
47 Scuderi - 32 RozsivalGoaltenders
50 Crawford2:00 PM:
Here's what Daniel Winnik had to say ahead of Friday's game... Leafs TV Is there a characteristic of the Blackhawks that stands out?
Yeah, they've had a core group there for a long time. Obviously three Cups in six years and they've been in the Conference Finals every other year I believe. They play a fast-paced, skilled game and they've got great goaltending. They really start from the back end, I don't think their back end gets enough appreciation as it does other than Seabrook and Keith. The other guys do a great job as well. Defending them off the rush in-zone is the hardest part of their game.How important was the forecheck for your line?
That's how we, as a line, how we're going to maintain zone time and get in there. We want to have clean entries as much as possible but with a tight checking team like Columbus and we know Chicago is pretty tight too, you've got to put pucks behind and get in on the forecheck and create cycles. On Holland as an effective centre:
Yeah, very effective. I think we've seen throughout the season, he's gotten his confidence and gotten going. When he gets in open ice he's a deadly player, especially when he's in around the net to shoot the puck.Are you enjoying the mid-season as teams ramp things up?
Yeah, I think so. The intensity builds in the second half of the season when playoffs get closer and I think I always find near the trade deadline games get more intense too because teams want to fight into the playoffs and maybe make their team a buyer as opposed to a seller. 1:30 PM:
Leafs forward Josh Leivo
made his season debut on Wednesday. Here's what he had to say ahead of Friday's game vs. Chicago...
How was it getting a feel for things in that first game Wednesday?
It was fun to get out there and back into the NHL. The speed was a lot different at first and I had to catch my breath there. Once the game kept going and getting further along I felt more comfortable and felt like I could make some more plays and win some more battles on the wall.
Do you feel more physically prepared to play in the NHL this year?
Yeah, each year you get stronger and you're more aware of who you're playing against. This summer I took that into consideration to get bigger and stronger so that's what I did. I do feel a lot stronger so hopefully I can just keep it going and play at this level.
How do you approach playing the power play time here particularly with four forwards?
We play it with the Marlies too so I'm used to it down there and if I get the opportunity I'm just going to work hard and get in front of that net, hopefully create some screens or get some tips or backdoor tap-ins. I'm just there to play the same way we play in the Marlies and hopefully it works out.
What has clicked for you and your production with the Marlies?
Just the chemistry, we're all a young team and we get along real well. We have a lot of skill down there so it's pretty -- I wouldn't say it's easy to get points but when you have that many guys with that much skill it is a lot easier. I think we found chemistry between each line and even when we switch them up there's still chemistry and we're finding ways to win. We're getting a lot of big goals late too. I think the chemistry has been great this year with all of our guys.
1:15 PM: Leafs forward Peter Holland offered his thoughts on tonight's game against Chicago following the morning skate. Here's what he had to say...
Do you look back to the game you had against Chicago last year ahead of tonight's game?
No, I think the past is the past at this point. We're just focusing on ending this backskid we're on and getting back in the win column.
How do you build off the effectiveness your line had last game?
I thought we had one of our better games together in the last little bit, a couple of games. Something we've been trying to establish is our forecheck, turning pucks over and creating offensive chances. We need to try to continue doing that and hopefully we'll find the back of the net one of these times.
How important is the first 5-10 minutes with them coming off a back-to-back?
We know how tough it is playing back-to-backs, it seems like we do them every week. It's important that you jump on a team that is on a back-to-back. The first 5-10 minutes is going to be crucial for us tonight.
Are you getting more scoring opportunities coming off the wall on the power play?
I think I'm just doing a better job of taking what's given to me. The shot isn't always there, sometimes they clog it up and the defenceman comes out at you. I'm just trying to take what's given and when the shot is there I'll use it.
1:00 PM: Here's what Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock had to say ahead of tonight's game.
How far back do you go with Joel Quenneville?
Well obviously he played a long time too. He's been very good in the League. When I was in Cincinnati in the American League and even in junior, I liked watching St. Louis and the way their backside pressure was. They played real fast, didn't get the goaltending in the playoffs in those days but they played real well. I liked them, we often showed our guys St. Louis clips. In '04 -- I think I got my first NHL win against St. Louis against Q if I'm not mistaken. Then, in '04 that year, I talked to him -- maybe it was 03-04, I can't remember exactly when it was -- I had asked him if he was going to coach the World Championships if I could be on that staff. It ended up that I got to be on that staff with him. I've known him a long time and when things didn't work out one year in Colorado I asked him if he wanted to come to Detroit and fill in for a little while. I thought he made a pretty good decision and sat out and went to Chicago. It has been pretty upside ever since. He's a good man, a good coach and he's in a good situation and he's got lots of talent. It was fun to watch their team play last night, they've got upside skill.
What's the key to longevity in coaching?
I don't buy any of that stuff. I think if you work hard at your game and your craft and you reinvent yourself and treat people right and demanding yet appreciative, I think you can have a long shelf life. I really believe that. The other thing, the key to having a long shelf life is good players. Don't ever kid yourself. Good players make the game a lot of fun. I saw some stuff last night that we don't dare try. We will but that's just what good players do. Good players create something out of nothing within the structure of the game and they beat the defensive structure and you go, 'Wow'. Other players you put in and you forecheck and you grind.
How many guys do you need to create a Cup winning team of Chicago's calibre?
That's a good question. When you've got those real good players it's easy to add. At the deadline you can add and move guys around. Good players attract good players too so you can get guys to come. The other thing about good teams is good teams -- old guys who are done can play on a good team because they don't have to be going all winter long. The fountain of youth is playoff time and they get jacked up and play well. That's what happens on good teams.
How much does one superstar affect the game?
Unbelievable. He makes the other guys better and you've got to play with him every day, you practice with him every day, you watch him, you learn a ton from him. When I was in Detroit I called them Nick-isms. You learn by watching him and you build that into the structure of your game. The way Duncan Keith jumps the guy early coming in on a rush, suddenly the next thing you know someone's watching him and someone else does it. The way Kane gets ice back and comes at you with speed, someone else watches it and they start doing it. Good players make coaches better and other coaches better.
What has to change to take advantage of the team coming off a back-to-back?
We've got to start on time, we've got to be ready to go. It was interesting and, I don't know if I'm right I just watched the game last night, to me Chicago got going in the first 10 minutes and they had 'er on a string and the game was over. Montreal really came and Crawford was great and they cycled but they didn't start on time. Now, I'm not saying they didn't, maybe the other team just had 'er going too good, but if we come out and watch them instead of playing it can get ugly fast.
Is it more difficult preparing for a team with a lot of elite players and good depth?
I don't know, I had a lot of fun doing it last night. We've got a plan and now we've got to execute it. It's great having a plan but I like the execution of it better. Let's get on with that.
Are stars more important now that scoring is down?
I don't know, I think stars are always important. Good teams, they have stars, they have enough of them and you don't need the most, you need enough. Then you need a lot of good foot soldiers with you. The foot soldiers got an easier job because they've got to do their own job.
Are you more up for a game like this than one against a coach you might not have a history with?
I like coaching against Hitch, I like coaching against Torts, I like coaching against Q, I like coaching against the guys I know real good but I like winning. It doesn't matter to me, I'll take a win every night.
Are the players more up for a game like this?
I think when you're a team like us, you probably live scared almost every night, how's that? I think when you're a really good team you often lose to the not good teams but you beat the really good teams.
How much hockey do you think you watch in a given week?
Well, if my bride is out of town, lots. If she's in town we slide in the odd dinner. I like watching hockey, I like watching good stuff. It's not even at night, it's the next day, it's -- I like watching hockey.
Do you ever relax and watch as a fan?
I watch lots as a fan but I watch soccer, I watch basketball, I'm trying to figure out the pick-and-roll -- how we can get inside, outspin them. It doesn't matter. I like watching sport. I watch it a lot with the volume down but I like watching sport.
12:45 PM: The Maple Leafs return to action tonight and play the first leg of a back-to-back when they host the Chicago Blackhawks.
The Leafs dropped a 3-1 decision to the Columbus Blue Jackets in their last game on Wednesday night. Brad Boyes had the lone Leafs goal against Columbus while James Reimer made 19 stops in the loss before the Blue Jackets added an empty net goal. Reimer will return to the crease when the Leafs take on the Blackhawks on Friday night.
The Blackhawks wrap up a back-to-back of their own on Friday in Toronto following a 2-1 win in Montreal on Thursday night. Jonathan Toews and Ryan Garbutt scored for Chicago while Corey Crawford made 39 saves and earned a first star nod in the win. Scott Darling is expected to get the start against the Leafs.
Stay tuned for projected lineups, comments from Coach Babcock and the Leafs and more.