Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Lightning rolls with scheduling quirks

TAMPA — For Eric Brewer, the best way to manage the Lightning's schedule is to keep his focus narrow.

Because if he viewed the city-hopping, time zone traveling, backbreaking endeavor in its entirety, "forget it," the defenseman said, "it's not going to work."

Much was made of Tampa Bay's just-completed stretch of eight games in which seven were on the road. And the team deserved praise for coming out of it 5-3-0 and, with 60 points overall, tied with the Bruins for first place in the Atlantic Division.

But as they say, no rest for the weary.

Including the last two games of its eight-game sojourn, the Lightning is in the midst of five games in seven days, including two sets of back-to-back games and tonight's matchup with the Islanders at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.

"That's a lot of hockey," Brewer said. "You're just trying to find time to keep guys fresh. Mentally, you're trying to be in the space where you feel good every day and feeling like you're current with the game at hand."

That is fine for players. But for coaches who constantly worry about bad habits creeping into their players' games, the conveyor belt of contests creates a time-management problem.

"Rest is a weapon," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said.

But that means, "your practice time is pretty much gone," he said. "So this is where you hope the principles and standards, your habits, everything you've put in place has become instinctual for them. That's how you have to train the guys, for instances like this."

There are advantages to the compressed schedule, made necessary by the Feb. 9-24 Olympic break.

Playing seven of eight games on the road was great for building player camaraderie, center Tyler Johnson said.

Rapid-fire games means players get into a routine, which is "better than sitting around for four or five days," left wing Ryan Malone said. And a glut of road games now means Tampa Bay plays 14 of its final 20 games at home.

Actually, Johnson doesn't know what all the fuss is about.

Playing for AHL Norfolk and Syracuse, respectively, the past two seasons, there were weekends he played three games in three nights.

And then there was the travel.

"You're on the bus for eight hours or so," Johnson said. "You get to the rink at 6 in the morning, then you have to unpack your (equipment). So you're up for another two hours then you have to go back to the hotel. You don't really get any sleep, so I would say this is a lot easier."

"You just have to treat yourself right, having good meals, lots of sleep. Playing in the NHL you should be excited for every game, so it makes it pretty easy that way."

Every team goes through tough stretches. Because Madison Square Garden was being refurbished, the Rangers opened the season with nine straight road games. They played their six preseason games on the road, too.

"You just have to make sure you manage it," Malone said. "If we come out on top through this tough stretch, that's a good sign."

Damian Cristodero can be reached at [email protected]

 
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