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Stars trying to find 'right balance' between practice, rest

Managing off days and preparation can become a tricky task for any team, and Dallas is no different

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

Rick Bowness has been behind the bench for almost 2,400 NHL games, so he understands the challenge of both preparation and playing.

The Stars assistant coach is one of the loudest voices in the locker room when it comes to pushing for more rest for this team, and he said a lot of his philosophy is simply common sense.

The Stars in the past two weeks played Vegas at home, flew to Chicago (getting in around 2 a.m.), played in Chicago, flew back to Dallas (getting in around 2 a.m.), played in Dallas against the Blues, flew to Minnesota, played Minnesota, flew to Winnipeg (getting in around 2 a.m.), stayed over in Winnipeg and then spent their off day traveling back (getting in around 2 p.m.).

"The travel in Dallas is interesting because you have no short trips," Bowness said. "There are a lot of 2-in-the-mornings out here. There's just so many times you're getting to your hotel at 2 in the morning or you're getting into your car back home at 2 in the morning. It happens a lot more than you think it would.

"And then when you're doing that, you're off a bit the next day. It really does take a day to recover when you've flown after a game and the flight was two or three hours and you get in at 2 or 3. I always say that if we're tired, imagine how the players feel. They're the ones playing the games, so we really have to be aware of that."

During that stretch, the coaching staff gave an off day after the Chicago game, had a fun practice after the Minnesota game, and then gave an off day after the Winnipeg game. The team had its worst game of the season after the fun day, but had one of its best after the day off in Dallas. Those mixed results mean the decision-making can be difficult.

Video: NYI@DAL: Montgomery on Radulov's return in Stars' win

"I think it was really important that we gave them (Friday) off," Montgomery said before a 3-1 win over the Islanders on Saturday. "We had practiced seven days in a row. We don't count the flight home as a day off, because a three-hour flight is not a day off."

He said after the morning skate Saturday that he was very much looking forward to that night's game.

"We could tell too, because today is the best energy we've had in over eight days," Montgomery said.

That energy showed on the ice, as Dallas played its aggressive defensive game to a tee, and earned the win against the talented Islanders with hard work and precision. While it's a little simplistic to say that the team plays better when it's rested, the first 10-games of the season were played in a span of 17 days with a plane flight between nine of the games. That's one of the reasons the team started out 2-7-1.

The next 15 games were played over a span of 36 days and the team went 13-1-1.

Energy, it seems, helped the Stars play better.

Video: NYI@DAL: Bishop on 'great' win for Stars over Isles

Stars forward Tyler Seguin said the Stars have to walk the line of balance in getting rest and staying sharp with practice.

"At times you could use repetition. At times, you could use rest," Seguin said. "Rest helps, but if you miss a few practices -- say if you have a boo boo or something -- then when you get back, you actually realize you need some practices."

Seguin said each player is different, each coach is different, and each team is different; so you have to find balance in what works best for you as a player, and the coaching staff has to find what works best for the team as a whole. Stars captain Jamie Benn said he communicates with Montgomery on a regular basis and feels they can come up with the right plan by working together.

"There are times we definitely need to practice, and we understand it. But the games are most important, so we want to be feeling our best during games. That's the goal for everyone," Benn said. "They reach out and ask, and I've got a pretty good feel for our energy levels and how we execute, so we talk about it. Plus, we've got a lot of veteran assistant coaches, so they also have a good feel for it."

Bowness is among the loudest voices because he truly believes finding rest in a season is one of the biggest ways to maximize performance. He has coached in Ottawa, Boston, New York and Tampa Bay in the Eastern Conference, and in Vancouver, Winnipeg, Phoenix and Dallas in the West.

"Managing the schedule is a huge part of our job," he said. "Because if you don't get the right rest and you don't travel at the right time…these things add up over the course of a year."

Video: NYI@DAL: Cogliano on netting first goal of season

It was posited to Montgomery and others that the Stars play a demanding style that requires high energy, and while that was accepted, the general feeling is it's not any more demanding than the style other teams play.

"Any team's style requires you to skate," Montgomery said. "If you don't skate in today's game and you don't compete on pucks, you have no chance in this league."

Corey Perry played his entire career in Anaheim before signing with the Stars last summer. He said that the challenges in Texas are similar to those in California.

"You have to have energy, and that goes for every team," he said. "You have to have energy or you're going to get run out of the building. It's a balance; you have to have energy, but you also need your repetitions and you need practice time."

And that's what the Stars are trying to find. If they give a full day off (like they did Friday), they typically want more touches at the morning skate (like they had Saturday). If they can get both (like they will with a day off Sunday and a practice day Monday), then that's typically when they play their best hockey.

"You just have to strike the right balance," Bowness said. "We need both, so you have to find a way to get both."

Don't miss your chance to see the Stars take on the New Jersey Devils as they continue the homestand on Tuesday, Dec. 10 at American Airlines Center. Get your tickets now!

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club.

Mike Heika is a Senior Staff Writer for DallasStars.com and has covered the Stars since 1994. Follow him on Twitter @MikeHeika.

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