TORONTO – Toronto Maple Leafs center Tyler Bozak hopes to continue to improve his dependable two-way game when the New York Islanders visit Air Canada Centre on Tuesday (7 p.m. ET; TVA Sports, MSG+ 2, TSN4).
Bozak, who was the NHL's third star of the week for the week ending Dec. 27, was held out of practice Monday to rest some nagging injuries, but will play against the Islanders. The 29-year-old has four goals and five points in his past four games.
Bozak has been asked by Toronto coach Mike Babcock to be a more responsible defensive player even if it comes at the expense of his offense.
"He wants me to be on the right side of the puck more and try to be the low guy in the zone as much as possible," Bozak said. "Sometimes you get carried away, cheating a little bit toward offense, trying to get a 2-on-1 or hoping the winger can somehow sneak the puck by the D-man, but if they turn it over you're in trouble. It's just about being on the right side of the puck and when you play well defensively it usually turns into offense."
Bozak has been a solid two-way player throughout his NHL career, but there has generally been more of an accent on his offensive game. He said putting the emphasis on defense under Babcock has not been a difficult transition.
"You obviously want to score and get points and sometimes when things aren't going as well as you want them to you start cheating a little bit, but it hasn't been that tough," Bozak said. "He's trying to instill that in everyone. He wants a defense-first mentality."
Babcock said he is pleased with Bozak's progress.
"Most of us in life are works in progress and we're all trying to get better every day," Babcock said. "Tyler is no different. What I like about him is how competitive he is. He has tried to be detail-oriented and in doing so he has found his game within what we are trying to do. When things change on you you've got to get back to what you perceive to be your game, but you have to do it within the framework of the team. He has done a nice job."
The Islanders have lost four of their past five games following an 8-0-2 stretch, but remain one of the NHL's best teams in terms of killing penalties. New York, which has killed off 31 consecutive power plays, ranks second in the NHL with an 87.3 percent success rate. Only the Anaheim Ducks (87.4 percent) are better.
New York coach Jack Capuano said his team's approach to the penalty kill has not changed this season from last, but there has been one slight change.
"I think we have been winning more faceoffs when we're shorthanded," Capuano said. "I think we have also cleared the puck more and our goaltenders have played much better. They understand the system we want to play and where the shots are coming from. We're also a little bit more aggressive."
Capuano has juggled his lines for the game and said he doesn't plan to do any in-game switching of the lines against the Maple Leafs.
"When you go through those stretches when you aren't scoring for 40-45 minutes you just try to change things up hoping something clicks, but I want to stay consistent with the lines that we have now for a little while and hopefully we can get some offense," Capuano said.
Here are the projected lineups:
Brock Nelson – Mikhail Grabovski - Ryan Strome
Nikolay Kulemin - Frans Nielsen - Kyle Okposo
Anders Lee – John Tavares – Josh Bailey
Matt Martin - Casey Cizikas - Cal Clutterbuck
Nick Leddy - Travis Hamonic
Calvin de Haan - Johnny Boychuk
Thomas Hickey - Marek Zidlicky
Injured: Jaroslav Halak (upper body)
Scratched: Brian Strait, Steve Bernier
James van Riemsdyk - Tyler Bozak - PA Parenteau
Michael Grabner - Nazem Kadri - Leo Komarov
Daniel Winnik - Peter Holland - Joffrey Lupul
Shawn Matthias - Byron Froese - Brad Boyes
Matt Hunwick - Morgan Rielly
Jake Gardiner - Dion Phaneuf
Roman Polak - Martin Marincin
Injured: Stephane Robidas (lower body), Nick Spaling (upper body), Garret Sparks (lower body)
Scratched: Frank Corrado
Status report: Halak missed practice with an upper-body injury Monday and remains day-to-day … The Islanders will play Zidlicky on defense in place of Strait.
Who's hot: Komarov has five goals and eight points in his past six games … Bernier has three wins in his past four games and has helped the Maple Leafs earn points in five of his past six games … Grabner has six points in his past five games … Strome has assists in back-to-back games … Nelson has three goals in five games.