Blackhawks

Players, coaches adapt to NHL's new condensed schedule

Players, coaches adapt to NHL's new condensed schedule

These days, Brian Campbell doesn’t do much on his off nights.

If he’s not playing hockey, he’s spending as much time as possible with family. And whatever spare time he has after that, well, he’s resting.

“I’ll have friends and neighbors say, ‘Hey you want to go for dinner?’ Not a chance,” Campbell said to laughs. “I don’t want to do anything right now. I want to be at home, whether we cook or order in. It has been, at times, exhausting. It’s not much of a life outside of what’s going on.”

The Blackhawks are currently enjoying their bye week after playing 57 games through Feb. 11. Thanks to World Cup and a bye week for each team, the NHL schedule has been condensed this season. That’s offered its challenges, its various effects on players and coaches and differing opinions.

Minnesota Wild coach Bruce Boudreau admitted he’s had to adjust. The usual way he does things just aren’t going to fly this season. Looking at the Wild’s record, the changes apparently haven’t hurt them.

“There are a lot of tired players and we’ve had fewer practices than any time I’ve ever been a coach in this league,” Boudreau said at the All-Star weekend. “We finished nine games in 15 days [before the break] and we never practiced the other six days because you can’t kill the guys, especially your better players. If you’re asking them to practice for 30 minutes and then asking them to play for 25 minutes, it’s a pretty daunting task.”

As for players on other teams, some love the schedule and some don’t.

“There aren’t too many guys in this league who are big practice guys. We want to play,” said Dallas defenseman Jordie Benn, who added he hasn’t changed his daily routine much. “We want to be out there on the ice. For me, personally, it’s not that big of a deal.”

Fellow Stars defenseman John Klingberg talked of the Stars’ early hectic schedule, in which the team wasn’t playing well and dealt with a lot of injuries. He thought a few on-ice sessions may have been beneficial at that time.

“We didn’t practice almost at all and at that time, when we struggled, we really needed to practice,” Klingberg said. “It was tough because we wanted to keep the energy going for the games. At the same time, you want to get practices in so you have the feeling with hands and feet. That’s something I felt earlier in the year that I needed more of. I was trying to skate as much as I could but there weren’t a lot of scheduled practices.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

With that, let’s look at the Blackhawks.

Considering how coach Joel Quenneville runs a practice schedule, it seems like the Blackhawks have been prepping for a season like this since the 2012-13 lockout. That year, when teams were playing roughly every other day in that 48-game schedule, Quenneville started eliminating a lot of practices. Part of that was the Blackhawks’ success: they got off to a 21-0-3 start, so why practice? But it was also about conserving energy. Even now he keeps his practices to about 35 minutes.

“Through the history of being around this team, it’s proven that rest is important and practices can be overrated,” Quenneville said with a laugh. “Our guys have played a lot of games, our older guys, for sure, and meaningful games. And we find we’re at our best when we’re rested and come ready to play the games and use time away from the rink to get re-energized, freshened up. Sometimes I think playing games is the right time to let it all out there.”

Still, it’s ultimately about the individual. Marian Hossa will take some practices and skates off, saving his energy for games. He’s having a great season, sharing the team’s goal lead with Artem Anisimov (20 for each). This is also coming off World Cup, in which Hossa played plenty of minutes for tournament runner-up Team Europe.

“It’s good to practice here or there but when you have so many games, I think the most important thing toward the end of the year is rest,” Hossa said. “We’re pretty lucky we have that, and I think we also have had good results off that. It seems like it works.”

Patrick Kane doesn’t take many skates or practices off but he has added something new to his repertoire: cryotherapy. In the therapy, be it whole-body or localized, a person is exposed to subzero temperatures for a few minutes.

“I think it has helped me, especially to do that in Chicago every off day, so it’s been good. I feel like fresh on the ice, which is good,” Kane said. “I think you try out different things to help your body or get yourself to recover a little bit faster than other times if you have more days off.”

So has the schedule had an effect on game outcomes, from the lopsided scores to those with double-digit goal totals? Boudreau believes it has.

“I’m sure everyone has theories,” Boudreau continued, “but my thought is, this is why there are so many discrepancies in so many of the games, be it 7-1, 5-1, 6-5 or 8-7.”

It could be debated. Some of the most lopsided scores (Columbus’ 10-0 victory over Montreal, Los Angeles’ 7-0 decision over Toronto and Winnipeg’s 8-2 victory over Dallas) came within the first month of the regular season. Seems that would be too early to blame a schedule. But there have been some outlandish outcomes recently. The Penguins 8-7 overtime victory over the Washington Capitals on Jan. 16 comes to mind. The next night, the Stars beat the New York Rangers 7-6. The Toronto beat the Islanders 7-1 on Tuesday.

“You look at the schedule this year, a tougher schedule. You see a few more blow outs, you wonder if that has anything to do with it,” Kane said. “Who knows?”

As coaches and players love to say, the schedule is what it is. But there’s no doubt it’s been busier this season, and everyone is doing what they can to adjust.

“Sometimes you have long road trips that might catch up to you with the travel or things like that. But even then, you’re not really thinking about it too much. You’re just trying to do what you can to get yourself ready for the next game,” Kane said. “I don’t think anyone thinks about it too much. It’s just we’re hockey players, we like playing games, so it’s a good thing.”

Four takeaways: Blackhawks can't solve rookie Cal Petersen in shootout loss

Four takeaways: Blackhawks can't solve rookie Cal Petersen in shootout loss

Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 2-1 shootout loss to the Los Angeles Kings at the United Center on Friday:

1. Blackhawks can't solve Cal Petersen

With Jonathan Quick (knee), Jack Campbell (knee) and Peter Budaj (sick) out, the Kings trotted out former Notre Dame standout Petersen to make his first career NHL start between the pipes. And he didn't disappoint.

The 24-year-old stopped 34 of 35 shots (.971 save percentage) in 65 minutes of play and denied Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane in the shootout to earn his first victory in the big leagues.

"He was good, yeah," coach Jeremy Colliton said. "The third period was more like it. If we’d had 60 minutes [like that] maybe we break him down eventually. He did well, he did a good job. I thought we had a little more traffic, got some more pucks to the net. That was better. But you can’t help but think if we’d have had that push earlier, then we’d get paid off for it."

2. Line changes serve as third-period spark

After failing to generate many scoring chances in the first two periods, Jeremy Colliton spruced up his top-six by putting Brandon Saad with Kane and Toews and Nick Schmaltz with Alex DeBrincat and Artem Anisimov. They saw the benefits almost immediately.

Saad scored 2:39 into the final frame after burying a feed at the doorstep by Toews for his third goal in six games, tying the game at 1-1.

'We showed some resiliency battling in the third," Saad said. "It was definitely a slow start. We've got to play a full 60 minutes to win hockey games, but I think it shows some character how we can battle back in the third. And then overtime we had some chances and some puck possession, and when it comes down to a shootout it can be anyone's game. But the message for us is to play a full 60, because when we play well you can see that we have opportunities and a better chance to win the hockey game."

3. Power play comes up empty

Special teams was the deciding factor in the Blackhawks' last two games. They gave up two power-play goals in 66 seconds against Carolina on Monday and then beat St. Louis 1-0 on Wednesday thanks to a power-play goal of their own.

The Blackhawks had three power-play opportunities against the Kings, and all three of them came in the second period. They recorded a combined six shots on goal during them, but reverted back to some old habits by waiting for the open shot and lacking net-front presence.

"You get three in the second, it would be nice to get one," Kane said. "Even if you're not getting anything on it, it's nice to get momentum off of it. I thought we did a decent job of getting momentum, getting some chances and some looks. Sometimes you've just got to converge on the net and hopefully get those rebounds and try to find a way to get one a little bit dirtier."

The Blackhawks also allowed a breakaway chance towards the end of the third power play, but Corey Crawford saved the day. Tyler Toffoli scored 19 seconds after the Blackhawks' first power play to make it 1-0 Kings.

4. Meet your newest Blackhawk

The Blackhawks had a visitor at morning skate in Carter Holmes, an 11-year-old from Wisconsin, who is battling Hodgkin's Lymphoma. As part of the Make-A-Wish Experience, Holmes became a Blackhawk for a day and practiced with the team, including his favorite player Patrick Kane.

"I might have to change my number," Kane joked about Holmes, who wears No. 88 because of Kane. "I think he was a little bit better than me out there today."

It was the first time Holmes skated since being diagnosed on June 30, four days after his team took first place at a tournament. Holmes feared that he would never be able to play hockey again, but that won't be the close. He's expected to re-join his teammates soon, even if it may take a while to get back into game shape.

"It's pretty special," Kane said of Holmes, who will drop the ceremonial first puck on Sunday for "Hockey Fights Cancer" Night at the United Center. "Sometimes you're just playing hockey and worried about the business aspect of it, but days like today you can take a step back and realize there's more important things out there."

Sports Talk Live Podcast: Updates on the start Jeremy Colliton era

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USA TODAY

Sports Talk Live Podcast: Updates on the start Jeremy Colliton era

SportsTalk Live is on location at the United Center for Blackhawks Authentic Fan Night. Charlie Roumeliotis, Jay Cohen and Jimmy Greenfield join Chuck Garfien on the panel.

0:00- Pat Boyle stops by to talk about the start of the Jeremy Colliton era and to preview the huge Sunday Night showdown between the Bears and Vikings.

19:00- Adam Burish joins the panel to preview the Blackhawks and Kings and to talk about how the Hawks players are reacting to a 33-year old head coach.

Listen to the full epiosde here or via the embedded player below: 

Sports Talk Live Podcast

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