On Monday evening, the Pittsburgh Penguins defeated the Buffalo Sabres, 5-4, at Mellon Arena on the strength of Sidney Crosby
’s fifth career hat trick (all three goals were scored in the second period).
The victory improved the Penguins record to 35-21-1 for 71 points - one behind the New Jersey Devils for the Atlantic Division lead. The win also marked the 57th game played by Pittsburgh this season, the most by any team in the National Hockey League at that point.
With their next contest being Saturday afternoon in Montreal, the Penguins are currently enjoying a four-day respite. With the condensed Olympic schedule, Monday’s 5-4 win feels like it occurred a month ago.
With all the games played already this season and coming off of two extended seasons ending in Stanley Cup Final appearances, the Penguins welcomed the brief relief.
It’s a little break here, but I don’t think it’s bad. We’ve had such a busy schedule all year. We haven’t had much time like this to heal a little bit – maybe a couple of bruises and stuff. I’m sure it will be nice to relax - Marc-Andre Fleury
“It’s a little break here, but I don’t think it’s bad,” Marc-Andre Fleury
said. “We’ve had such a busy schedule all year. We haven’t had much time like this to heal a little bit – maybe a couple of bruises and stuff. I’m sure it will be nice to relax.”
“It’s a grueling season. We have played a lot of games,” Pascal Dupuis
said. “It’s nice to have a little time to be the best dad you can be and stay home with your kids and wife a little bit.”
The four-day break is the longest such streak between games for the Penguins this year. In fact, once the team returns from the Olympic break the longest stretch of off days between games the team will have is three, and that will occur only once (March 8-10).
“We have had a lot of games in not a lot of days,” Tyler Kennedy
said. “You kind of get used to it and your body gets used to it. You have to get as much rest as you can between games and work hard when you are out there.”
The break will especially be beneficial to Penguins players who are participating in the Olympics – Sidney Crosby
, Fleury, Sergei Gonchar, Evgeni Malkin
and Brooks Orpik
. Since those players will be playing during the two-week Olympic stretch while the majority of the NHL is resting, it’s important that those players have some time to relax.
“Sometimes a couple of days like this will help you to get rest and get your body ready for the next game,” Gonchar, 35, said. “We had momentum going and everything, but at the same time, if you look at the big picture in the long term, I would say you need those days off.”
The four-day break, which stretches from Tuesday to Friday, has two major benefits to the team. Other than allowing the players time to rest and relax physically and mentally, it also provides the team with some time to hone their game during practice – something that the Penguins haven’t had a chance to do with games every other night.
Head coach Dan Bylsma gave the players Tuesday and Thursday off completely. The team practiced Wednesday and will practice Friday before leaving for Montreal.
Sometimes a couple of days like this will help you to get rest and get your body ready for the next game. We had momentum going and everything, but at the same time, if you look at the big picture in the long term, I would say you need those days off - Sergei Gonchar
“I think more importantly than just having two practices, which is what we are going to have this week, we get to have a practice where we get to work on some things,” Bylsma said. “We have specific things that we are going to work on as compared to a practice between two games where we are trying to maintain a little bit and stay sharp.
“There are some areas of our game we have been much better at – tracking, D-gap and defensive zone coverage. We can still get better in that area. Neutral-zone forecheck is an area that isn’t as solid as it needs to be. So we worked on that and defensive-zone coverage (Wednesday). You can pay a little more attention to it in a game situation with the amount of rest we have been able to get and also the practice between two days off.”
“For every team practice is a huge part of their success and the team getting better,” Staal said. “Obviously it has been difficult this year. This week is big for getting back to knowing the systems again and working on the little things that make us a great team.”
Overall, the Penguins are taking full advantage of their only extended period of off time. The coaching staff has utilized the four days wisely.
“You just get some hard work in,” veteran Bill Guerin said. “This year has been so condensed that we haven’t had a lot of practice time or a lot of work on systematic things. These are kind of work days. It’s nice that Dan (Bylsma) has worked in some work days and we are getting the rest days as well. It’s a good balance.”