Rare off day beneficial for Penguins Olympians

Sidney Crosby’s mouth curled into a slight smile.

“After getting a day off, there are no excuses here,” he said Tuesday night after he scored twice and was a dominant player in the Penguins’ 5-1 victory against Dallas.

Crosby was one of five 2014 Olympians on the team who were given the day off Monday from practice. The Penguins had a full-team day off Wednesday, although they traveled to Detroit for a game tonight against the Detroit Red Wings.

“They did a smart thing and gave us a day off [Monday]. It was really helpful,” said Penguins and Team Finland winger Jussi Jokinen.

Crosby, who won a gold medal with Team Canada, Jokinen, center Evgeni Malkin (Team Russia) and defensemen Brooks Orpik (Team USA) and Olli Maatta (Team Finland) have been trekking around the globe since early February and doing everything they can to stiff-arm jet lag, maintain some sort of daily routine and still be at their best physically for games.

Two other Olympians, American defenseman Paul Martin and Canadian winger Chris Kunitz, have had built-in time off since the Olympics because of injury, and Martin remains out.

“It’s been a wacky schedule the last little bit,” Crosby said.

Here’s a look at their time-shifting odyssey:

Beginning Feb. 10, they spent two weeks at the Olympics in Sochi, Russia, which is nine hours ahead of Pittsburgh. Monday marked three weeks since they returned.

In those three weeks, the Penguins have spent time and played in the Eastern, Central and Pacific time zones. They have had night games and day games. They have had day practices and night practices. They played in an outdoor game. They went through a stretch of seven games in 13 days.

For a cherry on top, daylight saving time began in the midst of all that.

“It’s challenging for anyone,” Orpik said, although he has surprised himself with the way he has adjusted.

“I expected it to be way harder, to be honest,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of games. I think the coaches have been pretty smart with the intensity of the practices.

“We’ll see. We’ve still got a ways to go, but I feel pretty good right now.”

Orpik credits advice the players got from sleep doctors and a strict regimen.

“I like to think that I take pretty good care of myself off of the ice, but I think you just try to be extra careful, extra responsible in terms of what you put in your body and making sure you are getting enough sleep at night,” he said. “I think diet plays a huge role in [sleep patterns] in terms of what you put in your body, what time you’re putting stuff in your body.”

Maatta, the youngest Penguins Olympian at 19, said his toughest time was returning to Pittsburgh from Europe.

“It took a whole week after that to really, really be normal, to get back to the rhythm of sleeping well,” he said. “Those other trips, the West Coast, haven’t really bothered me that much or even daylight saving or having games at different times.”

His countryman found the opposite to be true.

“Going to Europe and back has never been too bad for me,” Jokinen said. “When we went there, it took a few days, and a few days coming back. But we got back from Sochi and started to feel normal, then you go west and come back. That messes with your sleeping cycle.”

Jokinen likened this adjustment to the one he made when he played in his first Olympics, in 2006 in Turin, Italy.

“For the most part, my body and legs have felt better than expected,” he said. “I remember the same thing eight years ago, and I think I played my best month after coming back from the Olympics. I was eight years younger back then, of course, but I’m hopeful I can do it again.”

Compared with the two Finns, Crosby was a ’tweener. He did all right going to and coming back from Russia, and with the trip west. Everything hit him last week when the Penguins had three days between a back-to-back, home-and-home set against Washington and the same against Philadelphia.

“When you first get back [from Sochi], it’s actually not that bad because you’re playing almost playoff-like hockey [at the Olympics]. … So for the first week, everything feels a little bit slower just because you’re used to those high-paced games, the bigger ice, you’re skating way more,” he said. “Once you actually stop for a couple of days, that’s when I felt it — last week.

“Sleep has been much better the past couple of days, but it’s something that you just have to manage. Getting that day off [Monday], it feels a little bit better.”

Shelly Anderson: shanderson@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1721 and Twitter @pgshelly.

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