Sunday, March 19, 2017

Rest imperative for Blues during tough stretch of games

Team has stayed away from rink in effort to preserve energy 
playing compressed schedule, including a full day off Sunday

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- It started with back-to-back home games, then a travel day that took four ours to get to and play at Los Angeles the following day for a set of three games in four nights. Another off-day, then back-to-back games again, travel to Arizona, then a day off followed by a game.

It was a stretch of six games in nine days through three time zones that remarkably left the Blues with five wins and a good opportunity at getting a sixth.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues players Patrik Berglund, Kyle Brodziak and Ryan Reaves (75)
congratulate goalie Jake Allen after another victory Saturday in Arizona.

So when you're playing 66 percent of the time, it's only natural to spend the remainder of the time doing one thing: resting.

And in an out-of-sorts plan, the Blues chose not only to take a full day's rest Friday (only a handful of skaters were on the ice), they also chose to not take part in a full morning skate Saturday at Gila River Arena (aside from starting goalie Jake Allen and a couple skaters just shooting pucks on him).

It resulted in a 3-0 victory Saturday, the Blues' seventh shutout in the past 19 road games, and they've now played four of the five games on this trip allowing only four goals.

"We've tried to manage it the best we could," coach Mike Yeo said. "We didn't skate (Friday) and it's odd for us to not skate the day before a game and then not have a morning skate. The schedule is a little different. It worked out (Saturday) night. What's good now is we have a rest day and then we'll have a practice day before we get to our next match here. 

"Good to get this win. It was a hard game. The score at the end of the night I don't think really indicates how we felt through the course of the game. Their goalie was outstanding. They come at you with a lot of speed and a lot of skill. Jake was great."

Travel from L.A. to Anaheim was a simple 30-45 minute bus ride, but the flight from Anaheim to San Jose for a game the following night was not so easy because of a curfew law that had the blues land in Oakland and drive an hour to get to their hotel. 

They chose not to skate Thursday morning and won 4-1 against the Sharks, then got in late to Scottsdale, Ariz. to the team hotel and have decided to spend time there, including take the day off Sunday, practice at the Coyotes' practice facility before traveling to Denver for the final game of a 10-day trip.

"Mike's doing a good job being smart, letting us manage our energy," defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. "We didn't go to the rink (Friday), not many guys skated (Saturday). It was an opportunity to get some rest here. 

"This has been a tough trip. Time change and travel and back-to-back. It's good to get through this stretch, take a break (today) and get ready for Tuesday."

Yeo has been through this rodeo before coaching the Minnesota Wild, and with experience, a coach gains the experience and trust of his players to let him know what's best.

"Yeah, absolutely. You can see it in your players," Yeo said. "We know when we're fully sharp and fully on top of our energy. I think we've been good. We look like we're in good shape and I think our record in back-to-back games this year indicates that we are. But that said, we want to make sure we stay on top of it, especially in a schedule like this. We value our practice time, but the schedule's been so crazy that we want to make sure ... our game's been pretty sharp. We want to make sure we're giving our players the best chance to have the energy and to have the level of compete that we need every game.

"We have a lot of trust, and they're showing it. There's a lot more consistency creeping into our game. It doesn't mean that we don't do anything. There's been video meetings, whatever we have to do to make sure that we stay mentally sharp and mentally prepared, but like I said, we just want to make sure that physically we have enough in the tank to go out and compete at the level that we have to."

"You've got to be able to relax the body, turn the mind off and come ready to work," left wing Scottie Upshall said after Saturday's game. "We didn't skate yesterday nor this morning, but I thought we looked fresh and we did what we had to do."

The players have come to respect Yeo for being open about what they need. It's paid off since he took over as coach Feb. 1 with a 14-7-0 record.

"He's very communicative, he lets us ask how we feel, how our guys are doing and it's a big thing for us," Allen said of Yeo. "Some guys are really banged up at this time of the year and maybe need the extra day or extra practice off and I think it'll make a difference the last couple games and into the playoffs. I skated (Saturday) morning, but the guys had a couple days off and I think it was big for us. Three in four, it was tough with some travel out west. We were a little tired there Friday, so I think it was big to have the day and a half off.

"At this time of year, there's times where you don't need to skate. We're not going to forget how to play hockey for a 10-hour span of time. I think it makes a big difference. Rest is getting bigger and bigger as the NHL goes on year after year. You'll see that even more in the future."

And for the Blues (38-28-5), who entered Sunday in third place again in the Central Division (tied in points with Nashville but hold the tie-breaker based on 37-33 regulation/overtime wins edge) and six points clear of remaining among the top eight in the Western Conference, they've put themselves in a good position with 11 games remaining.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues goalie Jake Allen makes one of his 31 saves as defenseman Robert
Bortuzzo defends Arizona's Christian Dvorak during Saturday's action.

Taking care of their own business makes it all a moot point of what the other teams are doing.

"For sure. We're all here with the same goal," Upshall said. "This has been a long year, but we're a good group. We know what we're capable of right now. We're getting leadership, everyone's pulling their weight. This time of year, it's huge."

But players do know what's going on around them in the standings despite simply focusing on themselves.

"It's the mindset you have all along, but I'd be lying to you if I didn't admit that we knew where we were in the standings and knew what the situation is," Pietrangelo said. "We're really trying to separate ourselves here and trying to catch the guys in front of us. The only thing we can do is worry about ourselves and that's what we've been doing."

No comments:

Post a Comment