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‘It Takes a Toll…But It’s Fun’: Penguins Enjoy Compressed Schedule

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The schedule makers have been busy writing and re-writing the NHL schedule. COVID delays and postponements scrambled parts of the Pittsburgh Penguins schedule in the first few weeks of the schedule as 41 players over a few week span were placed into COVID protocol, which meant the schedulers dished the Penguins the current 14 games in 23 days stretch.

Winning sure has a way of creating positive views of the situation. The Penguins have won four of their last five games.

Penguins defenseman Kris Letang smiled when he thought about it the choice of more practices or more games.

I mean, I don’t know. If you ask any player, they’d rather play than practice, that’s for sure,” Letang said. “So I think every guy is pretty happy about playing that many games.”

Because of the early delays, the Penguins grind has a steady rhythm now, too. It’s essentially every other day with more back-to-back games coming. The Penguins played 13 games in the 23 days from Feb. 14 to March 9.

“It takes a toll on your body. You know, it’s fun,” Letang said. “I’d rather get dressed in the morning going to a game than a practice, that’s for sure.”

Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Tristan Jarry is in his first season as a number one netminder. The 26-year-old goalie has been the go-to-guy in the minors and was long heralded as the Penguins heir apparent, but aside from a two-month stretch last season, Jarry was not an NHL starter.

He only started one of the four postseason games in August.

As former NHL goalie Jamie McLennan turned NHL analyst told PHN before the season, being the starter is a different world. It’s a different mental grind without the safety net of being the No. 2.

There is something to be said for finding a groove, playing a lot, and not having too much time to think about things. To paraphrase Mike Sullivan’s mantra, “Just go play.”

It’s fun. It’s fun to play a lot of games, especially with the compressed season, there’s a lot of back to back, and there’s a lot of games consecutively with one day in between,” Jarry said. “So I think that it kind of gets you in a rhythm to feel your game and work on a couple of things in between.”

Play, review, play, repeat.

Jarry has won eight of his last 11 games, including his thievery of at least one point for the Penguins on Tuesday night.

I think that that helps you realize because you get the most experience from game time and being in those games and seeing different scenarios and different teams,” Jarry concluded. “I think that’s where you get the most experience from.”

Over the course of the season, PHN has checked in with the Penguins players about the new rigors of the schedule. Thus far, it has been met with enthusiastic, unequivocal approval.

Early in the season, Bryan Rust called the schedule and series format, “Like college hockey on steroids.”

He meant it in a good way.

Perhaps ESPN will want a compressed 56-game season with games every other day? Yeah, probably not.

Pittsburgh Penguins Practice Notes:

Mark Friedman was back in full gear and contact on Wednesday. The defenseman hasn’t been at practice since Nolan Patrick boarded him last Thursday. The injury came just moments after Friedman scored his first NHL goal.

John Marino was off on Wednesday. Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said Marino was given a maintenance day. Both Rangers’ goals deflected off Marino on Tuesday night, including a New York power-play goal. Mike Sullivan indirectly criticized the penalty kill and Marino for not challenging the shooter.

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Pittsburgh Hockey Now Editor-in-Chief, formerly 93.7 The Fan, Sportsnet Hockey Tonight, NHL Home Ice. Catch Dan tweeting @theDanKingerski and the official @pghhockeynow account.

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