Penguins Notebook: Practices draw mixed reviews

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TAMPA, Fla. -- Guy Boucher left no room for interpretation.

"I hate morning skates. Just the words, morning skates, I hate," the Tampa Bay coach said Monday after, not surprisingly, he called off the Lightning's game-day skate in advance of Game 3 of his team's first-round playoff series against the Penguins.

Contrast that with Penguins coach Dan Bylsma.

"I favor them more in the playoffs than in the regular season," said Bylsma, who has referred to the longtime NHL morning ritual as a time for game preparation.

Bylsma usually calls off morning skates only when the team has played the night before, although in a rare move he held an optional skate Monday at the St. Pete Times Forum -- a well attended one, as only forwards Arron Asham and James Neal sat out.

The two young NHL coaches take differing approaches to practice.

Boucher prefers to have productive, rigorous workouts on non-game days, while Bylsma would rather schedule occasional days off or optional practices -- as he did Thursday between Games 1 and 2, when several Penguins sat out practice. The Lightning had a full-team, full-length workout that day.

Boucher thinks his team gets a bigger emotional lift if the players put on their gear for the game without having already done that earlier in the day.

He said he also likes to see them "full out, and morning skates they have a tendency to just warm up."

He pointed to the fact that Tampa Bay held a morning skate before Game 1 and lost, then won Game 2 after just having meetings in the morning.

Bylsma is more interested in managing his players' energy. He often gives select players "maintenance days" or holds optional practices between games.

"I've thought a lot about it," Bylsma said.

"Given the type of game in the playoffs and how strenuous it is, a full day of rest is what we focus on for some guys. Going out and getting loose in a morning skate is probably important after a full day's rest."

Crosby skips skate

Penguins center Sidney Crosby began participating in game-day skates nearly three weeks ago -- at the St. Pete Times Forum when the Penguins had a regular-season visit -- but did not go on the ice for the one Monday at that arena.

He did shoot baskets with teammates Matt Cooke and Eric Tangradi before his teammates practiced and also went through an off-ice workout.

Nonetheless, his absence from the game-day skate attracted considerable attention, and led to this explanation from Bylsma:

"His workout regimen, and the one he's gone through the last five days, continues to be all through the doctor. He's been working out off the ice. That's through, and with communication from, the doctor. There hasn't been a change in his status."

Crosby skated as recently as Sunday morning, when he went out before the Penguins practiced at Consol Energy Center.

Fans of the game

The players are fans, too, and monitor other games when they can.

"Playoff time is an exciting time, and you always want to check in and see what teams are doing, and how players are playing," Neal said. "I've played with a lot of guys and know a lot of guys, so it's fun to watch."

Tampa Bay goaltender Dwayne Roloson watches, too, but he doesn't want to hear any analysis of the Lightning-Penguins series.

"I watched most of the games [Sunday]. I enjoy it," Roloson said. "But when they're doing intermission reports, I tend to walk out of the room or turn the channel."

Warming up to the ice

The St. Pete Times Forum ice got mixed reviews from the Penguins after the morning skate and apparently was chippy. There was a Lady Gaga concert Saturday, an Iron Maiden concert Sunday, and the weather is hot and sunny. Famed Canadian icemaker Dan Craig is in town.


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