The Penguins didn’t practice Sunday. It was a scheduled day off after taking what was essentially a red-eye team charter home from Arizona after a 3-1 loss Saturday night to the Phoenix Coyotes.
That doesn’t mean the team was necessarily against the idea of getting on the ice and working on some things ahead of a home game tonight against the Ottawa Senators. It’s just that in the grand scheme — particularly in an Olympics year with a compact NHL schedule — there was a higher priority.
“You talk about rest and recoup, a lot of that goes on no matter how you play,” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. “You have to pay attention to that — sleep, travel. When we get in at 3 and go to bed at 3:30 in the morning, 4:30 in the morning, to get up and have a practice at 10 is detrimental to the team.”
A week earlier, the Penguins canceled a Sunday practice after a 3-0 loss a night earlier at Dallas despite having a home game Monday against Buffalo. The Sabres also took that Sunday off, after winning a night earlier in Columbus.
“We’re not the only team in this league [doing that],” Buffalo interim coach Ted Nolan said. “It’s a lot of hockey. If you don’t take care of the nutritional part and the rest part, it doesn’t matter how much you work.”
In years past, when an NHL team was coming off of a lackluster game or wasn’t playing up to a coach’s standards, there might be a punishing practice — even a “bag skate,” where pucks were left in the puck bag and players were put through grueling skating drills as a means of getting their attention and, at least in theory, motivating them to play better.
Those are becoming rare, although Penguins captain Sidney Crosby pointed out that former coach Michel Therrien conducted a few of them.
“Old-fashioned bag skates, to me, are old-fashioned,” Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said. “I can’t remember the last time I had an old-fashioned bag skate.”
Bylsma’s coaching style doesn’t include bag skates, at least not in the traditional sense, but he finds ways to make the same point occasionally.
“If I need to do that type of skate, I can do it without leaving the pucks in the bag,” Bylsma said. “We can do a lot on the ice and make it hard. They know certain drills and certain practices have certain messages.”
His players take notice.
“There have been ‘hidden bag skates,’ where you’re doing drills that are like bag skates, but it’s disguised as drills,” said Penguins defenseman Paul Martin, who believes teams have found better ways of getting the most out of players than resorting to skate-until-you-ache tactics.
“Communication is probably better as far as what you’re doing wrong or what you need to work on, and with video,” he said. “The game has changed a lot that way in terms of the coaches and people running it.
“I think you get smarter, too, and realize that with a long season and that many games, if you start beating on guys like that, it doesn’t help them get better.”
Tippett, whose team beat the Penguins Saturday, believes teaching can net better results than punishing.
“Players want solutions when things aren’t going well,” he said. “They want to know how we correct things, not how you skate back and forth on lines. The game continues to evolve that way.
“You try to maximize your time and make sure the players have a full amount of energy and are allowed to play at capacity in games. That’s the only way you’re going to be successful.”
The Penguins managed their two-game trip last week to Los Angeles and Phoenix this way:
They had a morning flight Wednesday to Los Angeles and practiced there in the afternoon. For a shorter trip with no time zone change, they usually practice at home and then travel.
Thursday, they held an optional game-day skate. They beat the Kings, 4-1, that night and flew to Phoenix.
“Things that we might do in the morning skate, like the power play, we got to in L.A. [the day before],” Bylsma said.
Friday, they had an afternoon practice. Saturday, they once again had an optional game-day skate.
Then off Sunday.
“I think the mentality’s changed overall,” Crosby said. “I think there are still expectations of working hard, but there are different ways to get that out of guys. The old way was maybe skating [players] into the ground.”
Crosby smiled. He’s got a touch of old-school in him.
“Not to say that once in a while [a grueling practice] is going to hurt because it doesn’t,” he said. “Sometimes you need a little refresher on the importance of working hard, but, hopefully, for the most part, your team doesn’t need that done too often.
“I’m not totally against it, but if you’ve got three games in four nights, it’s probably not the smartest move to make your team exhausted.”
Shelly Anderson: email@example.com, 412-263-1721 Twitter @pgshelly.