They are forgetting the four-game losing skid. They are forgetting the mistakes. And more importantly they are trying to remember to get back to the basics - and the system - that has made them so successful in the past.
“We all know we have to play the system better, play smarter,” said Mike Grier. “We’re a little bit uptight; we’re squeezing the sticks a little bit. Guys are thinking too much, not reacting and just playing the game… all those little things are adding up and costing us games right now.”
To correct it, Head Coach Lindy Ruff put the team through a rigorous practice on Monday afternoon, following a day off on Sunday. The skate last just over an hour, but was full of compete. And when they did let up, Ruff was quick to react, more than once yelling to a few players to pick up the pace:
“We play like we practice and we practice like we play!” He roared.
“For the most part all the drills were game-condition type drills, where positioning was important,” Ruff said following the skate. “I think we’ve had some breakdowns that have cost us and we were just trying to point out a few plays that have crept into our game. The big part is that we’ve just got to bring a little bit more. We’ve played okay but we haven’t played hard enough. We’re going to have to dig in deeper and play the system even harder.”
“Today was tough. Very tough,” said Craig Rivet. “We worked real hard to get our legs back and try to get our minds focused.
“With this schedule it seems like there isn’t a whole lot of time to practice, so when [Ruff] sees things that he doesn’t like he’s definitely going to tell you. We need to focus, we need to work hard… we need to practice like we are going to play in games.”
Both Pat Kaleta and Steve Montador were absent from Monday’s workout. Ruff said Montador, who was hurt during the game in Columbus after taking a hit, may get back on the ice for Tuesday’s morning skate. Kaleta, meanwhile has missed the last three contests with a foot injury he suffered after being hit with a puck.
“We had it reexamined and the X-rays done on it were negative,” Ruff said. “It must be a real bad bone bruise where you can’t do too much with it.”
As for the rest of the team, the focus remains on moving forward and enter the two-week Olympic break on a high note.
“It’s important that you feel good about yourself,” Ruff said. “It’s a big break in the terms of its eight or nine days off before we get back on the ice as a team. You want to go on the break feeling that we’ve put a good five months in here… You want to be in the right frame of mind entering that.”
“Over 82 games you’re going to have a patch where things aren’t going your way,” Grier agreed. “You’re not feeling good about yourself as a team and as a group. Hopefully this will be it for us. We can get this out of our system and erase it with these next three games.
“We don’t want to go into this long break second guessing everything and worrying about our game. We’ve got three games to try and build our lead in the division a little bit and have everyone go on the break feeling good and upbeat, take the week off and come back ready to work.”