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Penguins want to make most of being off

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Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Penguins' Brooks Orpik takes out Warrren Peters in the first period during the Black and Gold game at Consol Energy Center Jan. 16, 2013.

Break it down

Some quirks in the Penguins' 48-game schedule:

• 8 of 12 on the road to start the season

• 7 of 11 on the road to end the season

• Eight straight against Rangers, Islanders, Devils and Capitals (Jan. 29-Feb.10)

• No games against Flyers over final 15 games

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Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013, 10:50 p.m.
 

The Penguins are scheduled to practice only twice between Thursday and their home opener Wednesday against Toronto, though they do play two games during that span.

Such a limited practice schedule would seem odd for a team coached by Dan Bylsma, whose idea of a light game-day practice includes hard skating, some physical contact, numerous drills and almost an hour of ice time.

“When we're on the ice, we'll get the most of it,” Bylsma said. “But if we tell the guys they're off, we want them to actually be off.

“There are only 48 games. You want to make sure there isn't a burnout factor.”

To avoid burnout from a schedule that includes eight of the opening 12 games on the road, Bylsma has tweaked his practice routine.

The Penguins play Saturday at Philadelphia and travel to New York for a game against the Rangers on Sunday.

Last season they would have taken off Monday. Instead, they will practice and players will be instructed to stay off their skates Tuesday before the home opener the next night at Consol Energy Center.

“It's something we're going to try, but if guys don't like it and they would rather have the day off after two games (in a row), we'll probably do it the old way,” defenseman Kris Letang said.

Bylsma is trying to avoid a scenario in which his club plays road games on consecutive days and then players spend the following day catching up on sleep.

Players differ on what constitutes a day off, but Penguins players seem to agree that spending a day in bed or on the couch is detrimental in a compressed season.

Winger Eric Tangradi, used to playing three games in four days in the AHL, said off days should be used for “recovery.”

“At Wilkes-Barre, when we have those stretches, you come in on that day off, scout the games from the nights before, do a light stretch and then whatever you need to keep your body fresh,” he said.

Defenseman Brooks Orpik already is tired of hearing speculation on how players will stay fresh during a season that features 48 games in 99 days. However, he conceded the schedule will play mind games with players more so than drain them physically.

“That mental break is more important with how many games we're playing and especially the travel,” Orpik said.

The Penguins' travel is favorable, Letang said.

He noted that Atlantic Division road games, of which the Penguins will play nine, are “easy trips.” Also, he said, the Penguins catch a break by getting their two games in Winnipeg out of the way 15 games into the season.

Southeast Division clubs — Washington and Carolina specifically — have it harder, Letang said.

“They have to travel more to Florida and Winnipeg,” he said. “We are home from New York in less than two hours. Same with Philly and New Jersey.

“You don't really get to rest mentally when you're on the plane. You just try to get some sleep, but it's not good sleep.”

Anything that prevents players from staying sharp mentally could dash a club's Stanley Cup dreams, Bylsma said.

The NHL has not played a 48-game season since 1995. That year, no team that went three consecutive games without a point qualified for the postseason.

Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rrossi@tribweb.com or via Twitter @RobRossi_Trib.

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