The Buffalo Sabres who are participating in the NHL All-Star activities aren't alone in counting down the days to the extravaganza. All they need to do is look around their dressing room to see a bunch of guys who also have something to look forward to next week.
A day off.
The Sabres continue one of their busiest stretches of the season this afternoon when they face the Boston Bruins in TD Banknorth Garden. The Martin Luther King Day matinee starts at 1 p.m. It's the Sabres' fourth game in a run of seven in 11 days. The chapter matches an identical run in mid-November for the most hectic 11-day stint of the season.
The Sabres' last day off was Jan. 7. Unless coach Lindy Ruff breaks from his practice routine this week, the Sabres' next chance to spend a day off the ice won't come until Sunday. That would be 13 straight days on the ice in five different rinks in four cities.
"It's no easy task for any team," Sabres co-captain Chris Drury said. "But we're not the only team that has these stretches. It's certainly not an excuse or a crutch.
"We know at the end of it there's a good four-day break for everybody."
The Sabres went 5-2 from Nov. 10-20 during their first 11-day gantlet. They are off to a 1-2 start during this one. They took a two-game losing streak with them on Sunday's plane ride to Beantown.
"You've got to find a way, and we're not finding a way right now," defenseman Brian Campbell said.
While the Sabres don't want to use the heavy schedule as an excuse for the losses, it is apparent the run is affecting their play. Ruff has noticed it is hitting different players on different days.
"In our last few games, we've had different players that haven't gone well, and it's cost us," he said. "It's like we've got some guys that don't quite have their legs, then the next night it's different lines or a different set. It's hurt us."
The players said there are not many things they can do differently when the calendar is full. Ruff shortened Sunday's practice in HSBC Arena to about a half-hour with a few offensive drills.
"Thirty minutes today was probably enough, with an afternoon game tomorrow," Ruff said. "There's less recovery time."
The Sabres are a team that thrives on challenges. This stretch fits that category.
"It seems like you're playing all the time, so it is a big challenge," defenseman Teppo Numminen said. "Playing in a difficult situation, it's a good place to learn. You've just got to simplify things and focus on the system."
The Bruins are in last place in the Northeast Division, 21 points behind the pace-setting Sabres, but they do have a winning record at 20-18-4 (12-8-2 at home).
The Bruins are getting pummeled in the goals column, however. They've scored 125 and given up 155. Only Philadelphia (174), Los Angeles (167), Washington (157) and Toronto (156) have given up more goals, and the Bruins have played fewer games than all those teams.
The Sabres will get two chances at the Bruins. They will fly home after the game and practice Tuesday for Wednesday's home game against Boston.
"It is a tough schedule, but we've been through times like this," Sabres right wing Jason Pominville said. "We're not going to use the schedule as any excuse. We've just got to be sharper."
Sabres vs. Bruins: Faceoff: 1 p.m. * TD BankNorth Arena
TV: MSG * Radio: 550 AM * Season Series: Sabres lead, 2-0