When you’re playing four game a week, it’s a little difficult to find time to practice. Coach Pete DeBoer hast to find the right balance of extra work, voluntary skates and mandatory sessions while making sure his veteran-laden team doesn’t get tired out before halfway point. That’s why having a day off in between a home game and a close road opponent is so very important in this lockout-shortened season.
“You’re going to deal with some sloppy hockey because of the circumstances of the schedule and the number of games,” DeBoer said. “I think the teams that can recognize an off night and manage it the best are the teams that are going to get points. We’ve got a veteran group and we should be able to handle those situations. To our credit, we handled it well enough to get one on a night we were off, but you want to get two.”
A lot of the work today was on simple things they usually do well when they’re winning – working the puck down low in the offensive zone, feeding the point men for shots and going to the net for screens, deflections and rebound. There was also focus on their down-low coverage on defense.
“I don’t think we’re going to have a lot of practices down the road either,” right wing Ilya Kovalchuk said. “We’re watching a lot of videos. The rest is important as well because we’ve got a lot of games and all the games are very important. A lot of games are going to overtime around the league, so it takes a little extra every game. You’ve got to be focused on that. We’ve got a veteran group of guys here who know how to handle those situations.”
Corey GriffinDeBoer made a similar point after last night’s game, noting that there’s going to be ebbs and flows to this schedule that the team, the fans and the media will have to adjust to. Every game won’t be perfect and there will be stretches of bad hockey because teams had almost no training camp to work on things. It’s a work in progress. This is where the Devils’ roster and coaching staff comes into play, though. This a smart, smart coaching staff that is very familiar with its roster. The coaches know when to push and went to lay off and when to tell a player to quit whining and gut it out. The players, being mostly veterans, also understand the importance of these limited practice opportunities, like Kovy alluded to above. They know that you have to treat every film session and all the on-ice work with the utmost care and value of importance.
While you might think younger teams will have better legs this season, I tend to think the veteran teams that already know the rigors of the season and understand their bodies and have good practice habits will be the ones that win out in the end. You may see a yougn team like the Isles or Oilers get into the playoffs, but by then they’ll just be happy to be there. Whereas with veteran teams like the Devils, they’ll know when to push it and which games you can maybe take your foot off the gas a bit because they know they’re not just playing to make the playoffs. They need something left when they get there.