|The Leafs' Tyler Bozak celebrates scoring the shootout winner Thursday night against the Blues before setting out on a four game cross-country road trip. (QMI Agency/Craig Robertson)
ATLANTA - Their journey will take them across three time zones, a four-game odyssey that will see them go from shivering to sweltering.
To be fair, the Maple Leafs are not complaining about their upcoming trip, which begins Friday night in frosty Atlanta against the Thrashers. Nor should they. Given the gruelling travel schedule Western Conference teams must undergo as opposed to their cousins in the east, there is no comparison here.
Having said that, the Toronto coaching staff is doing everything in its power to keep the team fresh.
Because the team didn't arrive in Atlanta until 2 a.m. Friday morning after its dramatic 6-5 shootout victory over the St. Louis Blues at the Air Canada Centre, there was no morning skate at the Philips Arena.
At the conclusion of the Thrashers game, the Leafs will leave immediately for sunny Los Angeles, where the team will enjoy a day off Saturday. After a light practice Sunday, there will be an optional morning skate prior to the game against the Kings Monday and no morning skate Tuesday prior to their contest in San Jose.
The four-game trip ends with a game in Phoenix on Thursday.
With their playoff hopes pretty much a longshot at best -- if at all -- it is a crucial trip for the Leafs, if for no other reason than to ensure the Boston Bruins don't get a lottery pick for the second consecutive year. The Bruins hold Toronto's first-round selection in the 2011 draft and the last thing GM Brian Burke wants to see is his team finish among the bottom feeders again.
Ensuring the players maintain some spring in their collective steps will be a key. That's why the coaches have drawn up a schedule in which the players will have a light on-ice schedule, both on off days and on the mornings of games.
Assistant coach Tim Hunter summed up the team's philosophy when he said on Friday: "Morning skates are useless."
The proof will be in the number of victories the Leafs can produce on this trip.
While the team did not confirm it, James Reimer is expected to make his third career NHL start in goal when the Leafs face off against the Thrashers on Friday. Reimer has allowed just three goals over his two previous outings...Thrashers defenceman Dustin Byfuglien laughed when asked if he still stays in touch with the Maple Leafs' Kris Versteeg, his ex-teammate with the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks a year ago. "We still talk," he said.