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Toronto Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle (Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)
Toronto Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle (Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)

LEAFS BEAT

Leafs under pressure to beat last-place Sabres as losses mount Add to ...

All Randy Carlyle wanted was a chicken dinner and some respite from his team’s losing skid.

But even a three day break for Christmas and a trip to Swiss Chalet on Boxing Day couldn’t offer the Toronto Maple Leafs coach that.

So it goes when your team is on the kind of ugly slide the Leafs have been the last two months.

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“I was in Parry Sound yesterday in Swiss Chalet and some fan walks by,” Carlyle said on Friday morning as his team prepared to face the last-place Buffalo Sabres. “Says ‘hey Carlyle, you better get those Leafs going.’ Everybody in the Swiss Chalet knew I was there. So I guess I didn’t get away from it.”

The Leafs play this season has clearly been wearing on their coach and many of the players of late. They have won only three of their last 25 games in regulation and are 4-8-4 in their last 16, something that bubbled over when Carlyle ripped into his team during last week’s 3-1 loss to the Florida Panthers.

Part of his message, captured by HBO’s cameras for their 24/7 series, was simply “we suck.”

Half of the Leafs wins the last two months have come in shootouts, and they’ve frittered away a 10-4-0 start to the point that they’re now on pace for just 86 points.

The good news is that they have a solid chance to hit the 40-game mark with a win, as the Sabres are on pace to become one of the lowest scoring teams in NHL history and remain in last place in the league.

What Buffalo has done in recent weeks, however, is really lock things down defensively under new coach Ted Nolan. The Sabres are 5-4-2 in their last 11 games primarily due to the fact they’ve allowed only 17 goals 5-on-5 in that span and will try to stifle the Leafs offence in this one.

There are a few other factors that point to this being a low-scoring affair.

Ryan Miller will start in goal for the Sabres, and he has an incredible 31-15-1 record and .922 save percentage in his career against Toronto.

The Leafs will go with Jonathan Bernier, who continues to be one of the league leaders with a sparkling .929 save percentage this season.

The Sabres will also be without one of their leading scorers in Cody Hodgson, who is out for a while with an upper-body injury.

It appears Toronto will get a boost for Sunday’s home game against the Carolina Hurricanes with the return of Tyler Bozak but expect Friday’s lineup to look very similar to most of their recent outings.

Carlyle hopes the players’ time away with their families provides that lift instead.

“Judging by the energy this morning, that’s obviously what was needed for our group,” Carlyle said. “Forgetting about hockey for a couple days. But you never really truly forget about it. It’s always in the back of your mind.”

Follow on Twitter: @mirtle

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