After an extended break away from hockey, the rested Penguins returned to the ice Wednesday night for the start of their final regular-season push heading into postseason play.
“It was good,” Jordan Staal
said. “It was a nice, well-needed rest for the mind and the body. I’m excited to be back and finish off this season and hopefully the playoffs.”
“I could have used a couple more days,” veteran Bill Guerin joked. “But seriously, it was good. It was fun and it’s always good to come back and see everybody again after a layoff.”
Wednesday’s practice was the first time in nine days that the team had seen each other (not including those participating in the Olympics, of course). The NHL enforced a mandatory shutdown of team operations from Feb. 15 – 23. During that period, players were not permitted to workout or skate at their team’s facility.
Many of the players used the break to get away from hockey, relax, heal some wounds and recharge their batteries for the final 20-game stretch.
“You try not to think about hockey,” head coach Dan Bylsma said. “You try not to be involved in hockey for a few days. In the summer time, it’s a month maybe, but then your brain starts wandering back to hockey and the team and where you’re at – those types of situations. I did take a break, and I did rest a little bit from the grind of everyday hockey, but it didn’t take too long for me to start thinking and working again.”
“I think anytime you have a long break like that – I think it had been nine days since we had been on the ice – you just try to get your legs back under you,” Mark Eaton said. “You have to get your timing back and get a sweat.”
The current week of non-games in some ways constitutes a “second training camp” of sorts, with a six-day period before they get back into action against the Buffalo Sabres on March 2. During that stretch the team is starting to work on the fundamentals and building towards the kickoff of the final 20 games.
“It will be much like the training camp practice with some of the same objectives,” Bylsma said. “It’s going to be a lot like a training camp. We had 15-16 guys on the ice for our 45-minute sessions in training camp.”
The Penguins’ practices are lacking manpower with Sidney Crosby
, Marc-Andre Fleury
, Brooks Orpik
, Evgeni Malkin
and Sergei Gonchar away for the 2010 Winter Olympics. Because of that, the coaching staff had to tweak the practices.
“There is an adjustment that has to be made to the drills due to the fact that there are 15 guys,” Bylsma said. “We pay attention to the reps every game, every practice. A drill that we would do with 22 guys is much different. We’re going to get to a workday (Thursday), and we’re going to have to modify some of the drills based on the fact that they’re going once every three times. That’s something that we pay attention to when there’s 22 men out there, and especially when there’s 15.”
With the break officially over, the time has come for the players to get back to work and back into practice/game rhythm. It’s time to get back to business.
“My lungs burned a little bit, but that’s expected with nine days off,” Alex Goligoski said with a smile. “It might be like that for a day or two, but it should come back pretty quick.”
“You would like a couple more (days off),” Ruslan Fedotenko said. “It’s never enough. On the other hand you don’t want too many of them because you’ll get sluggish. It was probably a good amount. It was great to have some time off and now it’s back to work.”