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Non-Olympians balance rest, conditioning @NHLdotcom

While 140 or so NHL players skate for their countries at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, the rest are enjoying a chance to rest, relax and gear up for the sprint to the end of the regular season and the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"It comes at a perfect time of the season. It's been a busy schedule," Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Matt Niskanen told the team website. "It feels like last season with the frequency of the games. It takes a toll. It comes at a perfect time of the year when you're starting to bog down a little bit. Recharge mentally and physically and preparing for that big push in the spring."

The break in the schedule began Sunday, and teams can't begin practicing again until Feb. 19. Play resumes on Feb. 25 when the Carolina Hurricanes visit the Buffalo Sabres in a game that had to be rescheduled from last month due to a snowstorm. Eight teams resume the following night, but most don't return to action until Feb. 27, meaning that teams can hold as many as seven practices before resuming play.

While the players who aren't in Sochi will enjoy the break, they don't want to get out of shape. That's a lesson Niskanen said he learned from the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. He spent the entire break resting, but said he was way behind everyone else in terms of conditioning when the season resumed.

"Last Olympic break, I didn't do much of anything and I felt awful for the first week coming back," said Niskanen, who was a member of the Dallas Stars at the time. "That's a long enough period. If you don't do anything, you won't feel very good for a while.

"I remember one of our first games was here in Pittsburgh. I was with Dallas at the time and [Sidney Crosby] was flying at Olympic speed and I was still on vacation. Lesson learned."

Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock, who will be behind the bench for Canada in Sochi, said before he left that he wants his non-Olympians to enjoy their time off -- but not too much.

"Especially at the start, make sure the fun meter's on high, get lots of sun and get refreshed and recharged and make sure you get to the gym enough that when we get started you're ready to go," he told the team website.

Though staying in shape is important, Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma told the Penguins website he wants his players to get proper rest for what he hopes will be a long playoff run.

"It should be a full-on break from hockey," said Bylsma, who won't be getting a break; he's coaching the United States team in Sochi. "They should be getting a vacation and a break, taking it easy. It's an active workout that they'll be doing. But they have seven practices to come back and get on the ice at the rink. With their time off they should be taking time off."

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