Being smart is key for Penguins when playing back to back
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Playing on successive nights, usually in different cities against different opponents, is a ritual NHL teams push through several times a season. Play. Pack. Travel. Decide about a morning skate. Play again.
By the second game, the memory of the night before is fresh. The legs, maybe not so much.
• Game: Penguins vs. Rangers, 7 p.m. tomorrow.
• Where: Madison Square Garden, N.Y.
• TV: FSN Pittsburgh.
"Two games in two nights isn't easy in this league," Penguins defenseman Rob Scuderi said yesterday after practice at Southpointe.
The Penguins haven't had to worry about that kind of schedule much this season. They played Ottawa twice in two nights in Stockholm, Sweden, to open the season Oct. 4 and 5 as part of NHL Premiere -- not exactly a routine version of back-to-back games -- and then had at least one day between games until last weekend.
That's catching up with them.
After splitting games Friday at Buffalo and Saturday at home against New Jersey, the Penguins play the Rangers in New York tomorrow night, followed by a date Thursday at Carolina.
Those four games are the early stages of a stretch of seven back-to-back scenarios over seven weeks, and nine in 11 weeks.
"Now we get our share of them, and we have to deal with it," winger Miroslav Satan said.
They didn't do too badly over the weekend.
The Penguins pointed to one bad period out of six -- the third in Buffalo, in which the Sabres came from behind to win, 4-3 -- over the two games. They defeated New Jersey, 4-1, Saturday.
"We weren't really happy with our third-period effort in Buffalo," Scuderi said. "I thought we did a nice job of rebounding. Sometimes that could really sink you for the next night.
"I thought everyone did a good job, especially in the first period [against the Devils]. You want everyone to come out, have a good first two, three shifts, get into the game and let your instincts take over from there."
Including the two in Sweden, the Penguins have back-to-back games 12 times this season, 11 in separate cities.
Last season, they played two nights in a row 15 times. They went 7-7-1 in the first half of those sets, 8-5-2 on the second night. They swept the two games twice.
The Penguins will have to get back in the groove of playing a lot of games without a day between.
"Mentally, you just deal with it," center Sidney Crosby said. "The more often you go through it, the more comfortable you get with it. We'll get lots of practice with it the next couple months."
Back-to-back games can throw players off their routines.
Saturday, for example, was the first time this season the Penguins did not hold a morning skate before a night game.
"Your routine is messed up, but sometimes that's a good thing," Scuderi said. "Sometimes changing it up kind of refreshes your mind a little bit. When things are a little different, it forces you to adjust and just deal with what's going on.
"You still try to keep it the same, the same eating schedule and listening to the trainers. I'm not freaky superstitious with things, but I know some guys are."
That would probably include Crosby, who embraces superstitions and a set schedule.
"You just try to stay occupied," he said of a game day without a morning skate. "It's a long day. Usually you're going to practice in the morning and everything happens a little bit quicker. When you don't skate, you just try to let the time pass by quickly -- walk around or do something."
Managing the physical toll of playing two games in two nights is just as big an adjustment.
"You have to be aware of it in the first game that the next night you're playing," Satan said. "Keep it short on the shifts to get through it. If you get burned one or two times, then it's really difficult in the second game to play."
Winger Petr Sykora said that leads to a silver lining. When teams play two nights in a row, players are compelled to be more disciplined.
He pointed to the New Jersey game as an example. The Penguins played well positionally and did not have to chase around the Devils.
"If you don't play smart, then you have to backcheck more, you have to skate more, you have to spend more energy," Sykora said.
"When you play back-to-back games, the smarter you play, the more energy you save."
The Penguins are going to need all the reserve energy they can get in the coming weeks.
First Published December 2, 2008 12:00 am