After a two-and-a-half week gauntlet that saw the Penguins play nine hockey games in 18 days, the team is now in the midst of having just three games over the next nine days, including a three-day break before they host the Montreal Canadiens Wednesday night at Mellon Arena for a 7:30 p.m. faceoff.
Players enjoyed an off-day on Sunday to relax, recharge their batteries and have a team get-together before hitting the ice for practice again Monday, a session head coach Dan Bylsma likes to call a ‘work’ day.
Pittsburgh fared exceptionally well during the 18-day stretch, posting a record of 7-2. They were dominant on many occasions, outscoring teams, 30-20, and outshooting them, 300-240. Despite their run of success, players were more than happy to receive the free day away from the rink.
“We just took it easy,” Sidney Crosby
said. “It’s a pretty quick way to hit the season. It’s been a good start but it’s been tough with all these games, so it was good to get a day off.”
“I think it was our third stretch of back-to-backs already,” Brooks Orpik
said. “Looking back at our schedule last year I don’t think we had three all year. That has been tough, especially with the Olympic break…having a day to get away from hockey is always good for your body.”
Oprik said he spent the day relaxing and doing what most Americans do on a typical Sunday – watch plenty of football. Other players, such as defensemen Martin Skoula and Mark Eaton, chose to spend quality time with their families.
“I basically spent the whole day with my son, Matej,” Skoula said. “We went to buy a little plastic motorcycle for him. He wants to go on his own but we need (to find) one low to the ground. It needs to be pretty small so he can reach the floor.”
“Most days off are family days with as much as we travel,” Eaton said. “It gave me a chance to spend some time with my girls and carve some pumpkins to get ready for Halloween next week.”
While Halloween is officially on Saturday, the players held their costume party Sunday night, as they will be busy hosting the Minnesota Wild on Oct. 31.
What did some of your favorite players wear to the party?Marc-Andre Fleury
was Kermit the Frog (see pictures here
of Fleury in his mask), Ruslan Fedotenko went as David Letterman and Kris Letang
dressed as Officer Doofy from “Scary Movie.”
When Monday morning hit, though, it was back to work for the Penguins as they returned to the ice.
“I think today I would label as a ‘work’ day,” Bylsma said after. “There’s a certain pace that we want to play at, and that pace requires a certain amount of work. You just don’t get it naturally. You don’t get it by playing. You don’t get it by riding the bike.
“You need to practice at a high pace. Today, I talk about this day being a work day where we’ve got to come and get some work in. It’s about a 35-minute (practice), but it’s the pace of which we’d like to add to our game.”
Working the legs meant a lot of full-ice drills taking advantage of the rink’s entire 180 feet throughout the session. Bylsma, however, rewarded his troops at the conclusion, as they placed a net on either side of the ice in one end and played a little three-on-three action from the blue line to the end boards.
Proving why their record has been so successful thus far, the players welcomed being pushed hard by their coaches. Of course, they did allow that a little fun was welcomed as well.
“There was a lot of skating involved,” Orpik said. “I don’t think the guys mind that when you are doing it in a fun way. It was a good way to do work and have fun at the same time.”
“Today was a work day,” Eaton added. “It was about getting the legs going and getting the work in. Even work days you have to make it fun though.”
Tuesday the Penguins will shift their practice focus to begin preparations for the Canadiens.
“Montreal certainly poses a different look than they have in the past,” Bylsma said. “They have some dangerous players, a new top line and kind of a different look and different things to be worried about … So we have some things to focus on going into the game.”