Everyone remember the 2012 Penguins post season? The one they cruised into, waited for Crosby to return, then got torn apart in a fun to watch opening round series versus the Fylers?
Well the Penguins are heading into that exact same scenario in 2014, they have the division all wrapped, and they are waiting for a key component to return to the team that can potentially push them to the Cup finals. Whilst Paul Martin is no Sidney Crosby, for the 2014 playoffs, he is just as important in his return.
The challenge for the coaching staff is to get the Penguins physically ‘up’ for the playoffs. Mental readiness won’t kill the Penguins (mental maturity is a conversation for another day), it will be the physical readiness or lack there of that will.
The Olympic break will be a blessing in disguise for all of Pittsburgh’s non-Olympians. That 21 day gap away from the NHL schedule will have given the coaching staff a chance to do something you never get to do, increase the training load to improve the fitness of the roster rather than trying to avoid physical regression through the season.
Obviously being able to rehabilitate niggling injuries is a big step forward, those players who are healthy have the chance to build up their core strength. Working on their abdominals, glutes and hamstrings will help the players come playoff time. With the extra holding and grabbing, the ability to skate through it and still make a play is vital.
Three weeks is just enough time for a strength and conditioning program to show some improvement, normally four weeks would be a minimum, if I was Mike Kadar (strength and conditioning coach) I would have pushed the training program through to five weeks, take two weeks of the season to extend the training cycle.
With the division lead being so large a ‘flat patch’ straight back from the Olympic break will not cost the Penguins the division, it might cost them top spot in the east, but having a stronger and physically ready team is worth more than guaranteed home ice for the conference finals.
The Penguins schedule allows for a moderate to high increase in strength training intensity for the first two weeks back. There are big enough gaps in the schedule between the outdoor game in Chicago at the game in Nashville to have more strenuous strength training workload.
After the west coast swing through California the team is back on the east coast and the travel schedule from the 10th to the 17th works really well, 2 sets of back to back games in both Washington and Philadelphia give the Penguins 7 days to push up the workload.
Some Penguins fans have made note that the team looks a little flat, not just the Olympians but also the non-Olympian’s, I am hoping this is because the team is working harder off the ice in preparation for the playoff run.
Once the Pens get past the Flyers back to backs they are day on day off basically the rest of the way and their training schedule should relax back to a maintenance workload. Usually the easiest way to ‘taper’ towards the Finals to peak for prime performance is ease off from your normal workload. This post Olympic schedule doesn’t allow for a traditional taper.
A way to give the taper effect is the increase of normal workload through the Olympic break and the two weeks post Olympics. Due to this extra push made through the Olympic break and the following two weeks, the lighter training workload (normal load) should be a nice refresher for the body and allow the players to peak come playoff time.
The Penguins wont be the only team taking this approach, there are some teams heading into the stretch run with no Olympians on their team, they should be able to get the benefit of the break, the players may have not been allowed to be with the team, but the team can provide training schedules and workouts for the players to follow.
Thanks for reading.