Once mid- to late-January rolls around, there are usually two things that Pittsburghers can count on. For one, an often-unwelcome combination of frigid temperatures and frozen precipitation dominates the forecast. With that, the Pittsburgh Penguins typically enter into the second half of a marathon campaign.
The snow and ice is likely to remain in 2013, but things will be different for the city’s boys of winter. The Penguins will begin the new season with a shortened schedule, condensed into 48 games that will play out over the next three-plus months. It’s a much different situation than what players are accustomed to, but they’re looking forward to adapting in the moment.
|The Penguins skating at CONSOL Energy Center |
“Games become that much bigger,” Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. “That’s exciting. I know we’ve all missed that competition and we’ve all kind of craved that. We’re going to get a good dose of that, especially early on. I think it’s good for everyone and I think it forces everyone to be even more prepared than maybe they typically would be.”
Marc-Andre Fleury is anxious to see how he will acclimate himself with a shortened season in the goaltender position. New backup Tomas Vokoun will likely help in that area.
“I think it will be good at first to get into the rhythm from playing a lot,” Fleury said. “We have Tomas here who’s a really good goalie, so I’m sure we’ll be splitting some time.”
The man who will make that call, among many others, is head coach Dan Bylsma. Entering into his fourth full season with the team, the Penguins bench boss is facing a new set of challenges at the helm.
The National Hockey League and its member clubs went through a shortened season during the ’94-’95 campaign that saw teams have to make adjustments accordingly. None of the players on the Penguins current roster were skating in the NHL during that time, but Bylsma and his staff have taken note of what transpired almost 20 years ago.
“There’s a lot of that we did look at,” Bylsma said. “We’ve looked at how many players were used in a 48-game schedule versus a full season, and what that meant for injuries and player call-ups. We’ve looked at a lot of different scenarios. We’ve gone through those things and we have seen some things that we will apply to what we’re doing.
“We’ve talked to people, coaches and players, that went through 94-95 as well to get their sentiment. We’ve got a lot of stats, we’ve got a lot of scenarios and it’s going to mean something for how we make decisions in some of those areas.”
With the value of each upcoming contest becoming magnified, fans undoubtedly have something to look forward to. Not only is hockey back, but also the competition, intensity, and all that comes with the game will provide some wildly entertaining evenings for aficionados of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“It’s going to be a sprint,” forward Pascal Dupuis said. “Usually there’s a long 82 game season. I’d say it’s a marathon. This one…could be a 200-meter race. It’s going to be a sprint to the final. Obviously, you can’t come out of the gate flat, or you’ll be far behind right away.”