If Saturday's game against the Chicago Blackhawks felt like the last real day of classes before Christmas break for the Buffalo Sabres, then practice at HARBORCENTER on Sunday morning was the day when you still go to school but just watch movies.
Players smiled and looked loose as they ran mini 4-on-4 and 3-on-3 scrimmages Sunday, their final practice prior to a five-day break for the holidays. Buffalo won't play again until Dec. 26, when they travel to Boston to play the Bruins for the first time this season.
Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said it was a final chance for the players to break a sweat before they "kick them out the door."
"Everybody's happy," Sabres forward Nicolas Deslauriers said. "Christmas brings joy to everybody. This day was fun. We definitely need that. We have such a tight group here and you can see it on the ice on a little day like this to sweat and say, 'Merry Christmas' to everybody and 'See you on the 26th.'"
As disappointing as the 3-2 shootout loss to the Blackhawks was, the Sabres went 3-1-1 in their last five games heading into the break after dropping three-straight contests in Western Canada. Bylsma said after the loss on Saturday that his players had every reason to be proud of their recent play. The captain agreed with that assessment.
"We got back to what was our foundation," Brian Gionta said. "On that West Coast trip, we had a lot of turnovers, we were sloppy with the puck, never established our forecheck -- so we got back into that kind of thing, managing the puck better and giving ourselves a chance to forecheck.
"We're a much better team when we do that. We get a lot of chances off the forecheck and off of sustained pressure in the offensive zone as opposed to straight rush chances."
While games are still going on around the League, the Sabres' schedule worked out in such a way that they have three non-game days in advance of the mandatory three-day holiday break every team receives from Dec. 23-25.
Buffalo's extended break is at least partially a result of their jam-packed schedule to this point. The Sabres played six games and had two travel days in a 10-day span that concluded against Chicago on Saturday.
Bylsma admitted that it would be a bit uncomfortable having his team away from him for a five-day span, but also conceded in regard to how much the team needed the break.
"It's an extremely long period of time," he said. "The good news is, everybody's going to have three days off going into the 26th and won't feel their best on that day. It's not going to be any different for us because we have three more days. It's going to be quite similar for us.
"Having said that, we've played a lot of hockey in the last month … This is a much, much needed break for our group."
In the meantime, the players have been given bits of advice on how to take care of their bodies during their days off. They'll even have ice time available on Monday and Tuesday if they choose to use it. And, while they'll certainly enjoy the mental break, they'll keep one eye focused on Boston.
"This is part of being a professional," Gionta said. "Yes, on the books, we have a five-day break where nothing is mandatory, but it's about taking care of yourself and about preparing for the 26th regardless of what's going on."
Sabres forward Marcus Foligno got a full practice in on Sunday after missing three-straight games with an upper-body injury. Foligno had previously practiced on Friday but was wearing a red non-contact jersey.
The Sabres' only absence on Sunday was defenseman Josh Gorges, who Bylsma said sat out with the flu.
"He was coming down with the flu yesterday," Bylsma said. "Just under the weather, didn't want him around the guys."