It’s not common for NHL teams to ask their players to make a lot of adjustments this late. The Penguins, for instance, have just five regular-season games left. Yet there they were Tuesday at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex, trying something different and having the sort of practice you might associated more with training camp.
Except for the short, 30-minute length of the official portion of the workout.
The Penguins, after playing 14 games over the first 25 games of March, have three days between games. Nashville visits PPG Paints Arena on Friday. So they used Tuesday’s session to work on skills and individual details of their games.
“Usually this time of year you’re playing every second day,” Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. “You don’t usually have three days in between. It’s good, especially this late in the year. You’re used to the same type of stuff (in practice drills). To switch it up a bit is great. We’ll get back to the regular type stuff on Thursday.”
The team has a scheduled day off Wednesday, so Tuesday seemed like the perfect setup for a workout that did not include things such as line rushes or conventional flow drills.
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“It’s all dictated by the schedule,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “It’s something that we can’t always control. Today we thought it was a real good day to do that, have that sort of a practice. It’s a fresh look for our players. I think they have fun and enjoy it.
“We’ve just played through a stretch where we’ve played a lot of hockey in a short period of time, and so it was more of an active recovery, but it was also very productive in the sense that it gave all of our guys an opportunity to work on game-specific skills that we can all get better at. We feel as though we accomplished a lot today.”
The Penguins are coming off a four-game road trip that had games every other day in addition to the travel.
“We just had a really difficult road trip, so it comes in handy for sure,” winger Dominik Simon said. “You have time to rest. You have time to practice a little bit and get ready for the rest of the season and mainly for the playoffs.
“(Tuesday’s practice) was a little easier – not that much skating – but it feels like good work for 30 minutes. It’s fun. You just work on your skills, have fun.”
The Penguins went 3-0-1 on the road trip. They sit just a point behind the first-place Washington Capitals and are even in points with the second-place New York Islanders in the Metropolitan Division.
A spot in the playoffs is not guaranteed but seems highly likely. A division title, or at least home-ice advantage in the first round, seems attainable.
So this break comes at an opportune time, right?
“Yeah, I’d say so,” defenseman Zach Trotman said, laughing. “It’s been games every other day or back to back (for a while). I’m sure these next couple days are going to feel like a week, but I know we’re all excited to finish up the last few games and try to put ourselves in a good spot.
“It would be good to get rested up and recoup for this last little stretch and get everything tightened up before the playoffs.”
Trotman doesn’t think three days off between games is enough for the Penguins to fall out of their mojo.
“I don’t think three days is too long,” he said. “I think everyone’s been in that groove long enough. The mentality stays the same.”
Defenseman Marcus Pettersson agreed.
“It’s been a lot of games lately,” Pettersson said. “We’ve got a couple of injuries lately. Yeah, it’s coming at a good time. At the same time, I think we’re playing pretty good right now, so we want to keep it going. No, I don’t think (the break is too long). I think it’s different when it’s a week.”
Crosby really took advantage of the schedule and setup. He was one of the last players off the ice, staying out more than twice as long as the half-hour portion that was overseen by conditioning coach Ty Hennes.
“With (Wednesday) off and not having a lot of practices the last little bit and probably the rest of the way, you just try to take advantage of the practice time,” Crosby said.