Seven Penguins players and several staff are currently in Sochi, Russia preparing for a run at gold in the 2014 Winter Olympic Games.
But for the rest of the team, the two-week break in NHL action during the Olympics will provide some time to rest, relax and heal the bumps and bruises from playing 58 games in a condensed schedule. The players are more than welcoming the time away from the rink.
“It comes at a perfect time of the season. It’s been a busy schedule,” defenseman Matt Nisknen said. “It feels like last season with the frequency of the games. It takes a toll. It comes at a perfect time of the year when you’re starting to bog down a little bit. Recharge mentally and physically and preparing for that big push in the spring.”
While several players will use the time to take vacation trips to the Caribbean or back home, that doesn’t mean they’ll be do nothing but lounging at the beach or ice fishing.
The players want to balance getting time off for rest and healing with maintaining their current physical shape. Strength and conditioning coach Mike Kadar gave the team workouts designed to maintain their physique, but also will enough time off to heal.
“It really comes down to who they are and how many minutes they’ve played,” Kadar said. “Look at ‘Nisky,’ he’s on the back end, big minutes, beat up a little bit. He could use a little bit more rest than some of the guys that have smaller workloads.
“At this point in the season a little bit of rest is important, but also maintaining what you’ve got as well.”
Niskanen learned his lesson from the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver. He spent the entire time resting. But once the season started up again, he was way behind everyone else in terms of conditioning.
“Last Olympic break I didn’t do much of anything and I felt awful for the first week coming back,” Niskanen said. “That’s a long enough period. If you don’t do anything you won’t feel very good for a while.
“I remember one of our first games was here in Pittsburgh. I was with Dallas at the time and ‘Sid’ was flying at Olympic speed and I was still on vacation.
Unlike the last Olympic break, which featured only two days of NHL practices before the league started playing games, this year the Penguins will have a chance to regain their conditioning before games begin.
The players will return from break and begin practicing Feb. 19. The team will be on the ice for seven full days of practice before hosting the Montreal Canadiens Feb. 27 at CONSOL Energy Center.
“Coming back it will be like a little training camp because we practice pretty much every day and the regular routine,” goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury said.
“We have plenty of practices to get back to where we are (conditioning-wise) once the break is over and everyone’s even,” defenseman Rob Scuderi said. “It’s not as if we have five less practices than everyone else, everyone has the same amount of time off and the same amount of time to practice before we play again so there’s no excuses.”
While the practices will help with conditioning, the week off provides a rare mid-season opportunity for the players build their strength through weight training.
“Try to do a few workouts through the nine, 10 days that you’re home, try to keep your strength up,” center Brandon Sutter said. “We have seven days of practice when we get back to sharpen back up, lots of time. But you want to keep your strength up and get your workouts in so when you come back you’re not sore and starting all over again.”
While maintaining their conditioning is of high importance, head coach Dan Bylsma still wants his team to get their proper rest for the stretch run.
“It should be a full-on break from hockey,” the Team USA head coach said. “They should be getting a vacation and a break, taking it easy. It’s an active workout that they’ll be doing. But they have seven practices to come back and get on the ice at the rink. With their time off they should be taking time off.”