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At the Rink: Blues at Maple Leafs

by Tim Wharnsby

TORONTO -- Toronto Maple Leafs left wing James van Riemsdyk should be accustomed to life with a new coach.

In seven NHL seasons, he has had five different coaches in John Stevens and Peter Laviolette with the Philadelphia Flyers as well as Randy Carlyle, Peter Horachek and the latest in Mike Babcock with the Maple Leafs.

But the adjustment to Babcock took time. Maybe it had to do with the fact this was the first time van Riemsdyk started the season with a new coach since his rookie season with Stevens before he was replaced 26 games into 2009-10.

"It was a matter of getting comfortable with [Babcock] and the lines of communication," said van Riemsdyk, who has points in five consecutive games and six goals and 11 points in his past nine outings going into Saturday's game against the St. Louis Blues at Air Canada Centre.

Van Riemsdyk believes he has been better because the entire team has played better. The Maple Leafs have gone 6-2-2 in their past 10 games.

"I think it also is the way our team has played as a five-man unit out there," the 26-year-old forward said. "I think it has allowed guys' talents to come out more, supporting each other around the puck, offensively and defensively. It has put us in a much better position to play winning hockey."

When Babcock was introduced as the new Maple Leafs coach last July, van Riemsdyk was well into his offseason training and a month removed from watching his younger brother Trevor, a defenseman, celebrate a Stanley Cup championship with the Chicago Blackhawks.

"It was exciting for me," said the older van Riemsdyk, who watched three games live in the final. "The road he took to get there with all his injuries and then to see him out there, you don't get many more cool feelings than that.

"No jealousy. We support each other in everything we go through. Sure, you want to be out there in that situation in being a winner. We weren't in the playoffs, so it made it easier to watch."

Babcock and van Riemsdyk talked over the phone a couple of times before training camp, but an adjustment period was required once the season began.

"I think he's skating better," Babcock said when asked what he has seen in van Riemsdyk's game. "He's more physical, he's more physical with the puck. He's going to the net harder. I just think he's playing a better game. He's been better defensively and he's back-checking better.

"I really like what's going on with him. He's been getting better in five-game segments and doing more things than just scoring. With each and every player you have a development plan for them to get better and you try to help get them better.

"He's been great."

Van Riemsdyk leads the Maple Leafs with 27 points in 36 games, and with 13 goals has an

outside chance of reaching his career high of the 30 he scored in 2013-14.

The Maple Leafs' current run began with a 4-1 win on the road against the St. Louis Blues. Babcock, however, didn't want to put too much stake in that game because the night before, the Blues were in Brooklyn, where they beat the New York Islanders 2-1 in overtime.

The bus ride to the airport was tedious and the Blues didn't arrive home until the wee hours of the morning.

"We couldn't get that arranged this time," Babcock said jokingly.

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock has warned his players about the work ethic of the Maple Leafs, who beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-2 on Wednesday.

"Getting out of Brooklyn is not fun," said Hitchcock, who coached with Babcock on the Canadian staff at the 2010 and 2014 Olympics.

"Mike can say what he wants, [the Maple Leafs] are hard to play against. They did the same thing against Pittsburgh. They make it hard on the best players."

Here are the projected lineups:


Alexander Steen - Paul Stastny - Vladimir Tarasenko

Patrik Berglund - David Backes - Magnus Paajari

Robby Fabbri - Jori Lehtera - Troy Browuer

Dmitrij Jaskin - Kyle Brodziak - Ryan Reaves

Jay Bouwmeester - Alex Pietrangelo

Colton Parayko - Kevin Shattenkirk

Carl Gunnarsson - Robert Bortuzzo

Jake Allen

Brian Elliott

Injured: Jaden Schwartz (ankle), Steve Ott (hamstring)

Scratched: Joel Edmundson, Cody Hodgson, Scottie Upshall


James van Riemsdyk - Tyler Bozak - PA Parenteau

Michael Grabner - Nazem Kadri - Leo Komarov

Daniel Winnik - Peter Holland - Joffrey Lupul

Shawn Matthias - Mark Arcobello - Brad Boyes

Jake Gardiner - Dion Phaneuf

Matt Hunwick - Morgan Rielly

Matt Marincin - Roman Polak

Jonathan Bernier

Antoine Bibeau

Injured: Stephane Robidas (lower body), Garret Sparks (lower body), Nick Spaling (upper body), Byron Froese (lower body). James Reimer (groin)

Scratched: Frank Corrado

Status report: Reimer skated before his team's morning skate, while Froese practiced with the Leafs … Berglund was activated on Friday and after offseason shoulder surgery. As a result, the Blues reassigned Jordan Caron to the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League.

Who's hot: After starting the season 0-10-1, Bernier has four wins in his past six starts … Tarasenko, who missed the last game with an illness, has eight goals in his past 13 games, including two game-winners. Blues rookie Fabbri has scored four times in six games.

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