The Toronto Maple Leafs have won six games in a row at home, but now must take their show on the road.
For the trip to Florida, with games against the Panthers on Tuesday and Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday, the players have brought their fathers with them. It is an annual trip and most, if not all, NHL teams do it.
Head coach Randy Carlyle admits there is a method to the team's madness bringing the fathers on the road.
"It's always a special time," he said. "We bring the fathers in and they get to spend some time on the road. They can see the babysitting I have to do."
Is that all there is to it?
"It's a little bit of a motivation," Carlyle added. "They want to play well in front of their fathers and we will send that message home numerous times; to make your dad and your family proud of you.
"There's nothing wrong with that. Everybody does it."
The players really enjoy having their dads tag along with them.
"I'm pretty happy about it," said 19-year-old rookie defenceman Morgan Rielly. "The guys are all happy to have our dads on the trip. Hopefully, we can have a good time and get two big wins down in Florida."
Rielly knows the players can have a good time in Florida, but not too good a time.
"I'm a teenager so, technically, my dad can still ground me," he said. "All the dads and players are going out to dinner and I know that'll be a big bill.
"Hopefully, I won't have to pay that one. Hopefully, that'll be Dion [Phaneuf] or someone picking up the tab."
JVR in sick bay
Left-winger James van Riemsdyk showed up for practice Monday morning exhibiting flu symptoms and was promptly sent home. Carlyle said he didn't know if JVR would take a later flight to Florida on Monday or leave Tuesday morning for that night's game against the Panthers.
Other injury concerns include right-winger David Clarkson, who could return Tuesday from an infected elbow that has kept him out of the lineup for eight games. And centre David Bolland, who has missed most of the season with a severed tendon in his left ankle, has been making great progress and will travel on the Florida trip, but likely not play. Carlyle said Carter Ashton, Trevor Smith and Peter Holland will not play Tuesday.
Smithson back in 'The Show'
The Maple Leafs recalled 6-foot-3, 210-pound centre Jerred Smithson up from the AHL for the road trip.
Smithson, who has played 26 games with the Toronto Marlies this season, still believes he can play in the NHL.
"You'll take every chance you can get," he said. "We [the Marlies] had been on the road for quite a while, so it was a nice phone call to get."
Smithson knows his role is a predominantly to be a checker, but knows he has to contribute in other ways if he wants to stick in the NHL.
"I don't think it changes no matter where I go," he said. "I know I have to be strong defensively and be good in the faceoff circle.
"I've got to be able to create a bit more offence, too. That's the part of my game that has been lacking a bit and it is something I have been trying to work on. I'm definitely excited to be here and contribute any way I can."
Smithson replaced Greg McKegg, who made his NHL debut in Saturday's 6-3 win over the Ottawa Senators, and Carlyle likes to have a player with lots of NHL experience available to him. Smithson has played 605 NHL games with a handful of teams, scoring 39 goals and 96 points with 363 penalty minutes.
"Going on the road and with the buildings we are going into, we'd be better served to have a defence-minded player," Carlyle said. "Specifically, if we have the option of Clarkson coming back into our lineup, it gives us a different look."
Kadri is centre of attention
Centre Nazem Kadri is starting to hit his stride in terms of offence, but is also gaining a reputation as a player who draws penalties and stirs the pot on the ice.
"Yeah, for sure, and he's been playing great lately," Rielly said. "When he's playing his game, he's hitting and chirping a little bit. He's trying to create offence and, when he's doing that, the team has a chance to win."
Some of Kadri's actions don't go over well with the opposition ,which has led to the occasional scrum after the whistle. Are they all caused by him?
"Probably every one," Rielly said, with a chuckle. "He'd always in there doing something.
"The players he plays against hate him and that's why we love him. He's a good guy to play with, for sure."
Change for the better
Defenceman Carl Gunnarsson finds there are significant changes to the way the Maple Leafs are playing currently.
"The compete level has been way better the last couple of games," he said. "Also, our play in the defensive zone and penalty-killing have been working out better.
"Last game, Phil [Kessel] was outstanding. And a couple games before that, Bernie [Jonathan Bernier] had an amazing night.
"The team has been playing good, but we have had that edge, too. We've got to keep that rolling, too."
Follow Mike Brophy on Twitter @HockeyBroph
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