NHL players enthusiastically await the All-Star break, a much-welcomed respite from the grind and travel of a long season and a chance to enjoy some midwinter time with family and friends, often in warm weather.
For the Pittsburgh Penguins
, however, their week-long break between games came during a seven-game winning streak they will take into the front end of a home-and-home series with the Toronto Maple Leafs
on Tuesday night.
Players generally prefer to keep playing when they're on a roll. The streak is the Penguins' longest since they won 12 in a row last season.
Get away from it all during a week-long break, or keep the momentum going by continuing to play? It's a tough choice.
"It's yet to be seen. We'll see how it goes tonight," defenseman Zbynek Michalek
said. "I think the break helps everyone in the long run. It's a tough season and we played a lot of games (four in six days) before the break and everyone was feeling a little tired, not just physically but mentally. To get some time off for a few days, just forget about hockey, I think it helps you."
Welcoming the break was goalie Marc-Andre Fleury
(26-12-2), who will start Tuesday during his 23rd consecutive appearance -- 21 of them starts. Coach Dan Bylsma
said backup Brent Johnson
, who has won only once since Oct. 18, will play at least 20 percent of the time in the 32 games that remain after Tuesday.
"It was nice to relax, get some sleep and get re-energized," Fleury said. "Ready to go."
The Penguins and Maple Leafs play again Wednesday night in Toronto, the first of four sets of back-to-back games for Pittsburgh in three weeks, a scenario that should give Johnson more playing time. The Penguins have another set this weekend, meeting Boston on Saturday and New Jersey on Sunday.
"It's two big games for us coming out of the break," Bylsma said.
Fleury already has played in 42 games, with 33 remaining in the regular season. His career high is 67 games, a figure he has reached twice previously. Fleury said there is no set number of games that he prefers to play.
Bylsma said the coaching staff sketches out a goaltender schedule at the start of each month and rarely alters it. However, Fleury got some extra time recently because of the way the Penguins were playing and because the break was upcoming.
With Arron Asham
(concussion) still out, the Penguins recalled forward Colin McDonald
from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. McDonald played in the AHL All-Star Game in Atlantic City on Monday night and did not make it to Consol Energy Center in time for the morning skate.
McDonald has 12 goals and a career-high 26 assists in 41 games at Wilkes-Barre. He was a plus-1 in two games for Pittsburgh earlier this season.
McDonald's addition is the only change in the Penguins' line combinations since they last played a week ago, beating St. Louis 3-2 in a shootout on Jan. 24.
The Penguins' probable lineup:
- Evgeni Malkin
- James Neal
- Dustin Jeffrey
- Tyler Kennedy
- Richard Park
- Matt Cooke
- Joe Vitale
- Craig Adams
- Brooks Orpik
- Zbynek Michalek
- Deryk Engelland