SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Lightning players, with no practice scheduled or even a team meeting, got to relax Sunday.
Some golfed or watched football at the team hotel. Defensemen Victor Hedman and Mattias Ohlund even went to the Bucs game against the Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium.
A day after putting together their best defensive effort of the season in a 3-0 victory over the Coyotes, players were the beneficiary of one of Guy Boucher's basic coaching rules:
Keep your players fresh — "If you ask guys to play a very high-paced game, they have to have the juice to do it," he said — and keep them wanting more.
"When you go to the rink every day, you're not hungry to get there," he added. "It's a routine, and I hate routines. Sometimes you are a slave to a routine, and I don't want that for our team."
So, Boucher is diligent about giving players down time. In five of the past 15 days, they did not have to report to the rink. Against the Thrashers on Oct. 22, the second of back-to-back games, there was no morning workout, nor was there one before Wednesday's game with the Penguins.
The team practices today, but then will head to a go-kart track and a competitive team-building experience much like a previous paintball excursion.
Compare that to last season, when then-coach Rick Tocchet believed a day without practice was like a day without sunshine.
"I don't think you can even count them on one hand," Hedman said of last season's days off.
"It's just a different mentality," center Nate Thompson said. "Every coach is different. We're working hard and going hard, but rest is so important. We're playing so many games in so many nights, and guys are beat up even this early in the season. You need that day to recover to come back feeling fresh."
Days off are not given haphazardly. Boucher spent hours figuring where they best fit in the schedule. He gave the players Thursday off so they could be with their families because Friday began a nine-day, four-game road trip.
Boucher calls off days "active recovery" days because "you can't veg out on the couch."
"You have to do something, move, anything," he added. "Forget watching hockey games, do something else."
The physical benefits are obvious. Tired players rest, and those with dings get a chance to heal. But Boucher said the mental benefits are just as important.
"What I've found is that if you don't give enough days off, you're trying to work hard on something and you go nowhere," he said. "You're there, but you don't progress. Guys are going through the motions. I ask the players for work ethic and enthusiasm. If we're going to have more than the other teams, you've got to recharge the battery."
"You get away from the rink and the next day, you're refreshed, rejuvenated and ready to work," goaltender Mike Smith said. "You're not worn out by doing the same thing over and over and over again."
That said, "If we're not performing well with days off, those will be limited. It's like, I scratch your back and you scratch mine kind of mentality."
As for the whole concept of days off — pardon, active recovery — Smith added. "It's an important part of the game that gets overlooked a lot. So far, it's working."
Damian Cristodero can be reached at email@example.com.