TORONTO – Showing that life in the NHL isn’t always about five-star hotels or designer suits, Leafs coach Randy Carlyle found himself in a Swiss Chalet in Parry Sound, Ont., on Boxing Day.
And while his players were with family and friends, likely away from the limelight, Carlyle was hard to miss among those ordering a quarter-chicken dinner.
“Some fan walks by and says ‘Hey Carlyle, you better get those Leafs going,'” Carlyle said Friday with a smile. “Everybody in the Swiss Chalet knew I was there so I guess I didn’t get away from it (hockey).”
For his players, hockey had been on the backburner, at least for a day or two.
“It was nice to have a break, physically and mentally,” winger Joffrey Lupul said ahead of Friday night’s game against the visiting Buffalo Sabres. “It (December) was a tough month for us, record-wise and just schedule, travel-wise. So hopefully a couple of days rest is what we needed and we are able to put together some wins here.”
“Christmas break, you kind of recharge and refuel and re-energize and get ready to push through to the finish,” said captain Dion Phaneuf.
“Everybody came back rested, got to spend some time with their families and friends over the holidays and that’s what it’s about,” he added. “Now we’re back to work tonight and we’ve got to focus on getting our game back to where we want it to be.”
The Leafs (18-16-5) are coming off shootout losses to the Rangers and Red Wings. Toronto has just one regulation win in its last 18 outings (5-9-4).
The Sabres desperately needed the break. A bout of flu meant interim coach Ted Nolan was able to dress just 16 players Monday against Phoenix. Having their Rochester Americans farm team in Switzerland at the Spengler Cup didn’t help matters.
“They look a lot better today, so that’s good,” Nolan said Friday of his Sabres.”
Centre Cody Hodgson, sidelined after blocking a shot, is still not ready to return, however.
The goalie matchup Friday appeared to be Jonathan Bernier for the Leafs against Ryan Miller of the Sabres.
Carlyle said the Christmas break seemed to have been worthwhile, pointing to the energy he saw from his team in the morning skate.
“We all felt pretty good out there this morning,” defenceman Cody Franson concurred. “It was nice to have a couple of days (off).”
Still, as Swiss Chalet showed, it’s hard to hide from hockey.
“But you never really truly forget about it because it’s always in the back of your mind to some degree,” Carlyle said. “We just hope we can take some of that energy that we had this morning and transfer it into tonight’s hockey game.
“These games are a different games, I’m going to tell you. You never know what you’re going to get off of three days (rest) and one morning skate. I’m sure all the coaches in the leagues are saying the same thing.”
At 10-24-3, the Sabres sit at the bottom of the NHL. But they are on a mini-streak, having won three of their last four and have gone 4-4-2 in their last 10 games. Toronto is 3-5-2 over the same period.
Luck may also be finally on the Sabres’ side. Buffalo won last time out via a bizarre overtime goal against Phoenix that saw the puck fly into the air and land in the back of Coyotes goalie Mike Smith’s pants. An unknowing Smith slid backwards into the goal, taking the puck with him for a 2-1 Buffalo win Monday.
There could be more mayhem in front of goal Friday, with six-foot-eight, 259-pound tough guy John Scott expected to see time on the power play in front of the Toronto net. The big man had 199 career NHL games under his belt going into Friday night.
At the other end, the Leafs will likely need a plan of their own against a hot goalie.
Miller is 4-1-0 in last five starts, with a 1.56 goals against average and .952 save percentage. He has not allowed a third-period goal during that run.
He is also 2-0 against the Leafs this season and 31-15-1 overall against Toronto.
Carlyle had not lost his sense of humour over the Christmas break.
Did you miss us, was his first question from the media after the morning skate.
“No I can’t say I missed you,” he replied to laughter. “I just didn’t think about you.”
The media were back in their numbers Friday. Leafs TV, the team’s house channel, had six people in the arena seats talking on TV during the skate.