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Game Journal: Game 65 - Sabres vs. Maple Leafs

by Chris Lund / Toronto Maple Leafs

2:30 PM: Tonight's officials will be Kendrick Nicholson and Chris Rooney. Scott Cherrey and Steve Barton will be the linesmen. Those looking to tune in can watch on TSN 4, listen on TSN 1050 and follow the Leafs on Twitter.

2:00 PM: Here are tonight's projected lineups for the Maple Leafs and Sabres.

Toronto Maple Leafs

41 Soshnikov - 43 Kadri - 47 Komarov
40 Grabner - 39 Nylander - 11 Hyman
18 Michalek - 24 Holland - 28 Boyes
38 Greening - 23 Laich - 26 Smith

2 Hunwick - 44 Rielly
51 Gardiner - 20 Corrado
52 Marincin - 8 Carrick

31 Sparks
45 Bernier

Buffalo Sabres

9 Kane - 15 Eichel - 23 Reinhart
44 Deslauriers - 19 O'Reilly - 28 Girgensons
82 Foligno - 22 Larsson - 12 Gionta
43 Catenacci - 17 Legwand - 26 Moulson

4 Gorges - 55 Ristolainen
29 McCabe - 47 Bogosian
25 Colaiacovo - 3 Pysyk

31 Johnson
40 Lehner

12:50 PM:
Garret Sparks gets the start for the Leafs tonight. Here's what he had to say on Monday morning...

Leafs TV

What have you seen in front of you that has kept the shots under 30?

The games that I've played we've been really well-structured and limited the amount of grade-A chances. Obviously they're playing hard, getting pucks deep, working the other team in their zone and it makes my life easier. But, at the same time, less shots is also a little trickier for a goalie. They've been good in front of me, they've been really good.

Are you pleased with your consistency at this level thus far?

Yeah, I just try not to think about it and continue doing what I'm doing and not changing anything too much. Take it day-by-day.

Are you looking forward to a challenge like Jack Eichel?

Yeah, it's pretty exciting being an American-born hockey player and getting to go up against one of the best guys the country has produced in a while. I've seen a lot of him, me and my roommate watching him closely so it's a pretty cool experience to be going against him.

12:40 PM: Leafs defender Connor Carrick spoke to the media ahead of Monday's game. Here's what he had to say...

Leafs TV

With Jack Eichel coming to town, where has USA Hockey made its strides in the last 10 years for you guys?

I think it's just the attention that USA Hockey has put on skill development in general. The Americans have always been known for a disciplined, competitive style of hockey. I think in the last little while they've looked overseas and seen the forwards and the puck talent that the Russians, the Swedes, the Finns have developed. I think we've taken a page out of their book and sort of tried to implement that at a younger level.

What's critical to containing Eichel tonight?

I think, like you said, you've got try to prevent him from playing to his strengths. You've got to try and take away the reach factor, the skating ability and then you rely on the other four guys on the ice to try and check him up ice so that when he's getting the puck you're leaning on him and not the other way around. Like you said, the whole world knows he can be a dangerous player.

What has to be done to keep the shots against under 30 tonight?

I think it's physicality and stick to detail. You've got to be skating well, you've got to be moving well, you've got to be cutting people off and getting in their way and try and prevent them from getting to the net. Buffalo has always had a tendency to really throw pucks from behind the net, the sides of the net, off the rush, from the point. They definitely have a net-front theme to their offence, it's kind of their scheme. You try to keep it out of your own end, break out clean and not give them second opportunities and box out well, all the cliches. It's just about executing.

How has your comfort level been now that you've had some time to get used to things here?

It's getting there, I was on the phone with my girlfriend last night at 11 and she was like, 'You know it's only about a half hour until you got traded one week ago.' That's just what you look for is growth, week-to-week, day-by-day. You've just got to show improvement. I think as a group, myself and -- I'll group myself with some of those other younger guys -- I think that's what the coaching staff is looking for. As a player you've got things you did well in junior, the American League and you want to see it all transfer. There may be some parts of certain guys' games that haven't yet, but that's what the patience is, that's the term that gets used.

12:30 PM: Milan Michalek will make his debut for the Maple Leafs on Monday night. Here's what he had to say following morning skate...

How do you feel about your debut now that the day is here?

I feel great, it's going to be exciting. I'm pumped up and hopefully it's going to be a good one tonight.

Has it been frustrating to not play yet?

It was tough coming here injured and not getting to know your teammates right away, but I'm happy to be back now. I've put lots of hard work in and hopefully it's going to pay off now.

Where do you see yourself at this stage of your career?

I hope [I have lots of hockey left] so, I feel great. I came here, there's lots of young guys in the room so hopefully I can be a leader and role model for them and help them to develop their game.

Are you excited with what you see in the young players in this room?

I'm really excited, it's one of the reasons I came here too. It's fun to be on the ice with these guys, they have so much skill and speed so it's awesome. I'm sure there's more guys on the Marlies too so it's going to be great.

How has adjusting to life in Toronto been thus far?

You get more recognized in this city than in Ottawa but I didn't play a game yet so we'll see once I start playing. It's all good for now.

12:15 PM:
Here's what Mike Babcock had to say ahead of tonight's game against the Sabres.

Leafs TV

What do you expect from Milan Michalek?

Well I know him from San Jose, I know him from Ottawa. I talked to him the day before, obviously we need him. I asked him what he does the best, what I should be trying to catch him doing right. I think it's real important, when you've got exhibition, when you've got time, it's one thing. When you don't have time, he's a veteran player, he's a good, good man, he has trained like crazy to be back, he probably thought he should have been back a few days ago but we wanted to make sure he was ready. I need to try to put him in situations so he can be successful. As a veteran player you don't help any kids until you get your own game going. We need him to help our kids, but in order to do that though, we need to get him playing good. It's no different than Brooks Laich that way. Once you get your game going you can help other people. But, until you get that look after yourself. It's important I put him in good situations to help him.

What has stood out to you about Kadri off the ice?

Well, let's not get carried away, work in progress. If Naz was right here I'd say the same thing to him. A big thing for him, for all kids who come in to the League obviously, is you've got to figure out what a pro is. When you start getting paid you think you're a pro. To me, that has nothing to do with it. That just means you're getting paid. When you become a pro, you learn how to practice hard, you know how to sleep right, you know how to eat right, you know how to bring it every day, you know how to fight through adversity, you know how to control your emotions. There's lots of things and you're a work in progress and so Naz is that. Now, also at the start of the year, we didn't play Naz head-to-head against anybody, we played Spaling head-to-head. And then we got him figured out and now Naz plays head-to-head against all the best players in the League. It doesn't help him score but it helps him become a better player and a player that's going to be valuable for our organization for a long time. Now, his decisions off-ice are a big part of that as well. I say this over and over, we're going to have real good people and then we're going to have a real good team, but the real good people part is going to come first... Like I said to you, he's a work in progress. We just keep working with him and he keeps doing things and it's not what comes out of your mouth, it's what you do every day and it's how you live and that's what guys are watching. If you're saying all the right things and you're living wrong, no one is listening to you anyway. Everyone knows who's slippery.

How do you balance the competitiveness of your team vs. the results and wanting to fast forward the process?

I think what I did with Lou all winter long, when he was getting carried away I talked to him and when I was getting carried away he'd talk to me. So, you know, all you've got to do is look at those stats. Our last four games in a row we've been right there every game, very competitive, we're right there. We've lost all four of them. It's easy to sag and feel sorry for yourself or be mentally soft, but why don't we dig in a little harder. Is it one faceoff, is it one shift, what is it that gets you over the top? I don't think anyone here has lost sight of the plan and where we're going. At the same time, when the game starts, we're trying to win every single night. Don't ever kid yourself, we're playing our players that way, we're trying to find a way to get two points and feel good about ourselves. It's way easier in life when you're coming in after a win. There's natural energy. When you don't you've got to be harder between your ears. You've got to make energy.

Have you seen Bylsma's imprint on the Sabres?

Have we only played them once? Once. To be honest with you I haven't been watching him and the Sabres except for the last couple of games here to get ready for the pre-scout. I don't know how much he's been following the Leafs. What you tend to do is follow the teams at the top of the standings because those are the teams you like watching. So, I'd know way more about Chicago than I would about Buffalo, I don't know if that makes any sense to you but that's kind of the way I would approach it. He's been a good coach in the League for a long time and I'm sure he's going to have lots of success there. They've got a good group of players prior to his arrival, they had done good things. Tim Murray is a real good scout and doesn't mind making a deal. Mr. Pegula is as good an owner as you can have. They're set up for success there for a long period of time. Obviously getting Eichel, to me, is a real positive for their organization. He looks like he's a real player in the making. All those things I think set them up for success over time.

Could you tell that Bylsma would be a coach when he played for you?

I knew he had passion and energy and the year I had him I think we had a real good year. He then coached two years in the minors with us with Brad Shaw who's in St. Louis now. So, you knew he had passion for the game and energy and could talk to people. I don't know if -- I wasn't looking 10 years down the road, I was probably looking to try to win the next game so I never spent a whole lot of time thinking about it, bu he has done well.

12:00 PM: The Maple Leafs host the Buffalo Sabres on Monday night as they get set for the third game in a three-game homestand.

The Leafs are coming off a 3-2 loss to the Ottawa Senators on Saturday night. William Nylander and Nikita Soshnikov scored for the Leafs on Saturday night, while Jonathan Bernier stopped 28 shots in the loss. Garret Sparks is slated to get the start for the Leafs on Monday against the Sabres.

The Sabres also last played on Saturday night and lost by a 3-2 score to the Minnesota Wild in a shootout. Johan Larsson and Jack Eichel scored for Buffalo. Robin Lehner made 28 shots in the shootout loss. Chad Johnson is slated to get the start in Toronto.

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

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