TORONTO – While many fans count down the days to next week’s super-sized outdoor NHL game between Toronto and Detroit, Leafs coach Randy Carlyle says for now it’s just another date on his schedule.
The Toronto calendar included home games with Buffalo (Friday) and Carolina (Sunday) before the team takes on the Red Wings in the 2014 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic next Wednesday at Michigan Stadium on the University of Michigan campus.
The NHL anticipates a world record for attendance at a hockey game, with the stadium capacity around 110,000.
Carlyle, who has had to endure the “24/7” cameras for the HBO show leading up to the game, has other things on his mind for now.
“We’ll get to it,” Carlyle said Friday of the outdoor game. “There’s been so much gone on in the month of December—the number of games that we’ve played, the number of roster changes, the number of bodies that we’ve had in and out, the turmoil, lack of success.
“All those things have gone on here and we’ve tried to put that to the side and just try to focus on the positives. There’s been some positives that we’re trying to build on with our group and hopefully we can carry that forward.
“The most important game for us is tonight (against Buffalo). Our group needs to feel good about itself and we have to go out and earn something here.”
The Leafs (18-16-5) came into the Buffalo game on the heels of shootout losses to the Rangers and Red Wings. Toronto had just one regulation win in its last 18 outings (5-9-4).
Carlyle offers little on his goaltending choices and Friday was no different for those hoping he might give a hint on his choice outdoors.
“I look at our goaltenders the same way,” he said after the morning skate. “I look at it and say who’s going to give us the best chance for success night in and night out. I’m not making any grand plan for who’s going to play. I know who’s playing tonight and we’ll make the decision after tonight’s game on who’s going to play the next one. And that’s the way we’ll deal with it.”
Jonathan Bernier was expected to start against Buffalo, judging from the morning skate, with James Reimer on the bench.
Going into the Buffalo contest, Bernier had played 26 games with a 10-11-4 record, 2.42 goals-against average and .929 save percentage.
Reimer had played 18 games with an 8-5-1 record, 2.83 goals-against average and .924 save percentage.
NOTES—Captain Dion Phaneuf declined comment on whether he was nearing a contract extension with the Leafs … Toronto centre Tyler Bozak (strained oblique muscle) says he expects to return to action Sunday when he is eligible to come off injured reserve.