This may be the toughest time of the year for an NHL head coach. Every game seems to turn the tide in the battle for playoff positioning. One extra day of practice could yield a difference making moment on the ice. Yet everyone is battered, bruised and tired as the NHL’s regular season enters its final month. It forces the NHL’s bench bosses to straddle the line between pushing their men even more and giving them a well deserved break. McLellan wisely chose the latter for Sunday.
“First of all, they are human beings,” McLellan said. “We have to remember that fatigue becomes a factor at this time of the year. It’s either physical or mental.”
No matter what the profession, people require a break when they go hard for a week or two straight, and in most professions there isn’t a physical pounding required each work day. Plus they need to be rewarded for strong efforts and the recent eight-game winning streak would definitely qualify.
“They’ve earned the right to have some days off,” McLellan said of how hard his team has been playing on the ice. “We all get that in our work world where we have to get away from our profession, where we have to spend some time with our families. That’s what we want our group to do tomorrow.”
The time off the skates will likely make them even better for the next go around.
“We’re not rewarding them for a 95 percent effort (against Dallas),” McLellan said. “It’s about being fresh. It’s about regrouping. It’s about bringing it to practice on Monday then transferring it over to the game on Tuesday.”
It’s difficult to explain how important the rest is as most people can’t comprehend what it’s like to have their bodies rammed into by other 220 pound objects skating 20 miles an hour. No matter what the conditioning level is, hits involving that much energy take a toll.
“It’s unexplainable. You can’t really relay what it’s like for the athletes,” McLellan pointed out. “Every team in the league goes through this. The wear and tear with the travel. The competitiveness. The bumps and bruises the guys play with. We don’t call them injuries, but they are sore. The best comparison is when the fathers come on the trip. They don’t play, but they are worn out by the time they get back.”
Down the stretch, McLellan will do what he can to ensure the proper balance between practice time and allowing his club to recover. It may be a day off. It may be a video session. However he does it, it is to ensure the players’ tanks are full when game day arrives.
“Sometimes we can practice visually rather than physically and we’ll look at that as well,” McLellan said. “At this time of the year, they have to get their rest. Trust me, on Monday when they come in, we’ll expect everybody to be sharp.”
NEXT GAME San Jose will host Nashville Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. and tickets can be found at the HP Pavilion Ticket Office and at www.ticketmaster.com. The game will be on CSN California, 98.5 KFOX and www.sjsharks.com.