These kinds of weeks are nothing unfamiliar to David Quinn - in fact, in a way they are a walk down memory lane for a coach who spent his last five hockey seasons in the NCAA. Spending a week preparing and waiting for the weekend to play your games, that is straight out of the college hockey handbook.
For an NHL team, five days in between games qualifies as a midseason mini-camp, and that's how Quinn has set about tackling this hole in the schedule that comes on the heels of a busy November calendar.
With no games to gauge performance, the coach has liked what his eyes have told him so far.
Video: Quinn on having a full week of practices
"After having a day off yesterday, I thought they really came back with a purpose, and with energy," Quinn said after putting his players through practice on Thursday in Westchester - four days removed from their last game against Winnipeg and two days ahead of their next, a visit to Florida on Saturday night. "Usually after a day off there's a little bit of rust, and it takes a little time to get going. Boy I really like their attention to detail and their effort. It was a good day."
So far this week Quinn has wedged in a pair of off-days around a pair of particularly high-energy practices - high-energy even for this coach - with the goal of striking a happy medium with an usually long break 28 games into an 82-game regular-season slate. In between off-days on Monday and Wednesday, Quinn's practice sessions have run around the 90-minute neighborhood on the other days, and on Thursday included competition drills, small-area games, power-play work and skating, plenty of skating.
Video: Shattenkirk on team's offensive zone play
"We're kind of working on everything this week," Kevin Shattenkirk said.
"We're always trying to get compete into our practices, so this is more of an opportunity where you're not worried about 'Oh boy, we're playing tomorrow, and we've played three in four,'" Quinn said. "I wasn't worried about the time of practice, I wasn't worried about how physical it was, I wasn't worried about how competitive it was. We've had plenty of time off, so when we go, we can go."
The Rangers will practice again on Friday with the same full complement of players who were on the ice Thursday, though not all are expected to accompany the team when it departs for its two-game trip beginning against the Panthers in Florida on Saturday night, as they look to break a four-game road skid.
Pavel Buchnevich, who practiced for a second day this week, is less than one month removed from a broken thumb and is not expected back this weekend; Quinn pegged the winger as "probably a week away - he's getting closer and closer." Mats Zuccarello (groin) and Vlad Namestnikov (concussion), on the other hand, "are right there" and are possibilities to play in Florida.
A pair of blueliners, Adam McQuaid and Brendan Smith, wore red no-contact jerseys in practice Thursday; Smith should have nothing holding him back this weekend, while McQuaid remains out with an lower-body injury.
"You have to make sure your keep the intensity high and your focus really high - but also we had a couple guys out, so it's good timing" to have the five-day break, Henrik Lundqvist said. "Get some guys back, work on some details in our game here and try to come back well-prepared for a good trip."
Video: Lundqvist looks ahead to Florida road trip
Lundqvist said that he personally has not let his mind linger over the Rangers' last game, a 4-3 shootout loss to Winnipeg at the Garden, a game after which Quinn called the Jets "probably the best team we've seen all year." "For me personally it was just the shootout," Lundqvist said on Thursday. "I just wish I could have stopped a couple more shots and help the team get a win. But then you have to move on."
"One of the things that happened in that game, because we'd been struggling a little bit, I thought the mental piece of it was part of the problem too," Quinn said. "They scored that first goal (to get on the board in the third period), and because we'd been in a little bit of a rut, I think our confidence wasn't what it needed to be. You could feel it a little bit on the bench - we hadn't had that feeling in a long time, it was an uh-oh feeling. When you're winning and you're playing well and a team scores, you just shake it off. I felt that first goal kind of changed the complexion of the period.
"A lot of it was puck management, a lot of it was puck support. Once they got that first one I thought our aggressiveness lacked, I thought we backed off, I thought we were playing too cautious."
To that end, Quinn said that in addition to tacking on some extra on-ice time this week, there has been a little extra classroom time as well - up to a point. "We had a good film session today," he said. "It's that balancing act of film work. You want to make it productive - it may make you feel good that you're sitting in there for 25 minutes watching film, but after seven minutes (the players) are thinking about what they're going to have for dinner or lunch. You've got to make sure you manage that and keep their attention and not overdo it."
That is less of a concern for the on-ice sessions, although one thing the goaltender and the head coach seem to have in common is that they don't really know multiple speeds in practice: When you're on the ice, you compete hard. Period.
"We talk about it: The way you practice is the way you play," Lundqvist said. "The way you pay attention to detail in practice, the intensity - there's a lot of things you have to do right in practice to have success in your game. It doesn't change if you play every second day, or if you play once a week. That's how you prepare yourself.
"It's been a good couple of days here - get away from the game a little bit, take a deep breath, and have a couple of days here really working hard. I think that's the key theme here for this week, just work hard and keep repeating the things that are going to help us have success."
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