Ah, the pause that refreshes. For the majority of NHL players, the two-week break for the Winter Olympics provided a well-earned breather and the chance to rest those bumps and bruises that are part and parcel of the NHL regular season.
The return to practice in the second week of the break also allowed teams a refresher course and a chance to iron out some problem areas.
They had better have taken advantage of it as sprint to the Stanley Cup Playoffs resumes Monday with the Colorado Avalanche
hosting the Detroit Red Wings
and then jumps into overdrive Tuesday night with 12 games.
NHL general managers also are a busy bunch these days with the trade deadline dead ahead, coming Wednesday, March 4 at 3 p.m. ET.
After shoring up their rosters, it will be full-speed ahead to mid-April and the beginning of the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
"To me, this certainly has a good impact," Boston Bruins
coach Claude Julien
said. "I think people will certainly have an opportunity to see some pretty exciting hockey from here on in because of a lot of guys getting some time off, getting their injuries healed a little bit more, and getting some rest to get their energy back."
But rest doesn't mean Anaheim Ducks
coach Randy Carlyle
wanted to see his players become couch potatoes.
"The expectations were that you don't just go and do nothing for 10 days," Carlyle said. "There's a workout that had to take place on a regular routine that we asked (of) them. We provided them with the things we thought were necessary."
After their first practice, Carlyle said his players had stayed on course.
"By looking at their energy and their jump today, they were fresh," he said. "But they weren't fresh at the end of it, which is expected."
For the Bruins, who have seen a long list of injuries this season, the break to rest came at the right time.
"Time off is so important at this time of year for those reasons -- because of the injuries and the mental break," Julien told reporters. "It was nice to come back and see guys excited to be back and practicing again.
"It's a long year. Those kinds of things aren't bad. Everybody during a normal regular season gets three or four days because of the All-Star break, which isn't much.
In Dallas, coach Marc Crawford
expects to see his players rarin' to go and grab a playoff berth.
"I've been through this before, and I know that five days just gets stale," Crawford told Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News. "You look at it now, and we've got players who are hungry to return and are going to hit the ground running."
Stars veteran Mike Modano
"It was a great break and a great way to rest mentally, but now it's time to get back to work," Modano said. "It's going to be a wild sprint from here on out."
In Philadelphia, Danny Briere
wants to make sure the Flyers don't lose the edge that saw them enter the break on a four game wining streak.
"We put ourselves in a good position the last week before the break, to get a couple of points ahead of the pack," Briere told reporters. "We have a few games in hand over some of the teams and can use that to our advantage.
"But it's going to be tough; it seems like we play every night or second night toward the end. Four games a week is going to be interesting. I do think it was good for everybody to get away. Yes, we were hot, but we can still be hot. That's the goal."
What about the players who have gone deep in the Olympic tournament? The winners will obviously be reporting on quite a high, but coaches like the Penguins' Dan Bylsma
have some concern for players coming off disappointing defeats, like Russians Evgeni Malkin
and Sergei Gonchar
"They've been going every day," he said. "They can argue that they were amped up, in terms of the arena they were in and the situation they were in and what they were playing for, (but) they probably need a mental break more than a physical break."
In Edmonton, there is plenty of talk involving change for the disappointing Oilers, who figure to make some moves at the deadline. But the players also look at the stretch drive as a chance to salvage their seasons, even if the playoffs remain a longshot.
"I feel refreshed and, hopefully, I'll be recharged to finish strong, the way I started," Dustin Penner
"I, personally, would like to get back to playing the level of hockey I know I can play," Shawn Horcoff
said. "It's obviously been a frustrating and trying season. It's been disappointing on all fronts. You never want to go into a long offseason with a negative taste in your mouth. You'd like to finish the season strong and on a positive note."
In New Jersey, the two-week break got defenseman Paul Martin
14 days closer to returning from a broken forearm that has scuttled much of his season, including a roster spot with Team USA.
"I just got my cast off for good (on Feb. 15), so I went home to Minnesota," Martin told the Bergen Record's Tom Gulitti. "There’s a guy there that I use for some rehab -- arm, wrist, whatever you want to call it. The same thing that I was doing here: working out and skating. It was not really like a break, but it was good just to mentally get home and see some friends and family.”
With both goalies Evgeni Nabokov
and Thomas Greiss
finishing their Olympic commitments, the Sharks were light in goal for their practices, so former NHL masked man Steve Shields
donned the pads again to help out.
"We knew we'd need a goalie for today," coach Todd McLellan
said Wednesday. "It's a way to bring a former Shark back and just put him on the ice. It's as simple as that. We needed a goalie, and he was prepared to do it."
Shields, who played three seasons for the Sharks, has been out of the NHL since playing five games for Atlanta in the 2005-06 season.
"He called me a couple of weeks ago and said make sure you're in half-decent shape if we need you," Shields said of a call from Sharks Assistant GM Wayne Thomas
. "Anything I can do to come out to help some of the guys that are here. It still was my favorite place to play."
With so many players competing in Vancouver, Shields didn't have to face shots from gunners like Dany Heatley
or Patrick Marleau
. In fact, a lot of players were missing.
"There's only so much you can do with 10 players," McLellan said. "The on-ice part of it is important. But the meetings we have prior to it as well as the review of a lot of video stuff is crucial right now for the players that are here."
And it won't be long before everyone is back and the sprint to the playoffs begins in earnest.