Penguins catch a break in the schedule

With only one game between now and Jan. 20, the Penguins will get some rest, relaxation and, in their opinion, some much-needed practice time

The Penguins are 18-3-1 in their past 22 games.

That's not riding a wave; it's surfing an avalanche.

A lot of teams -- some of them pretty accomplished -- have tried to slow them over the past month and a half. Very few have succeeded.

The NHL, however, has hit upon a foolproof way of preventing the Penguins from winning games: It won't let them play any for a while. Not many, anyway.

Their game against Washington at 8:08 p.m. Wednesday at Consol Energy Center is the only one the Penguins will have between a 2-1 victory Saturday in Calgary and a home date Jan. 20 with Florida.

That means they will play once in a span of eight days, a stretch of downtime surpassed only by next month's Olympic break, when the league will go dark Feb. 9-25.

When a team has been picking up a couple of points as regularly as the Penguins have, an extended layoff generally isn't high on its wish list.

"You never want to stop when you're winning," defenseman Rob Scuderi said Monday. "I think it's debatable, the way we've been winning, whether we'd want to keep that up, but it's winning, nonetheless."

It is true, though, that while the Penguins have been collecting points in the standings -- they lead the Capitals and New York Rangers, who are tied for second place in the Metropolitan Division, by 17 -- they haven't always earned style points.

After a 4-3 overtime loss Friday in Edmonton, Scuderi called out his teammates for putting an undue emphasis on -- and effort into -- offensive flash, rather than playing a sound defensive game.

Coach Dan Bylsma made it clear Monday he endorsed Scuderi's critique -- "He was definitely accurate with his reference to how we played with the puck and how we executed, [made] decisions with the puck," Bylsma said -- and fixing the problems Scuderi pointed out will get much attention in coming days.

"I don't think we've played the way we wanted to that much," goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said. "It will be good to have a little practice time, because we haven't had a good bunch of practices in a row.

"It will be nice to work on little things, work on our game. When you keep playing all the time, there isn't that much time to practice, and practices are shorter."

Although the practices might be longer and even more detail-oriented than usual between now and the Panthers game, the schedule also allows for some time away from the rink.

The Penguins did not practice Sunday, when they arrived home from Calgary not all that long before sunrise, and are scheduled for another day off Friday. And it's conceivable that, if circumstances merit it, Bylsma might cancel another workout, or, at least, give some players the option of sitting one or more out.

"Anytime you can take a few days to rest and heal bumps and bruises, it's a positive," winger Tanner Glass said.

Well, at least for most guys.

Scuderi is one of the exceptions, having dressed for just seven games since returning from a broken ankle that forced him to sit out the previous 29.

"I don't like it because I'm just getting back and just starting to feel better," he said before volunteering that "for a lot of the guys who are playing all these games, it's a welcome rest."

While Bylsma acknowledged the value of rest, he also pointed out that at least a few players should benefit from on-ice workouts.

"Some of our players need to practice," he said. "[Recently acquired forward Taylor] Pyatt needs to get in practices with our group and [get] used to how we play and how we practice through getting out there."

Nonetheless, Bylsma made the point that playing just once in eight days could disrupt the rhythm that has served the Penguins so well for much of this season.

"With this schedule the way it's been and the number of games since the [three-day Christmas] break, you get into an every-other-day [routine]," he said. "You get used to playing games. You don't get used to practice. You probably don't even like practice.

"You want to play. [The downtime] feels like a hiatus, and I don't think [players] are real comfortable with that.

"It gets you out of the rhythm, it gets you out of playing hockey games. Even putting the [game against Washington] right in the middle, it's kind of on an island. There is maybe a re-focusing time, but you don't want to get too far away from playing hockey games."

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