Penguins notebook: Players prepared for tough schedule in minors
The Penguins are in the midst of a relatively grueling part of their schedule, playing three games in four days for the third time in November.
It’s a situation defenseman Ben Lovejoy and some of his teammates prepared for before they played in the NHL.
In the AHL, to maximize weekend games that traditionally do better at the box office, teams regularly would play three consecutive days or have four games in five nights.
In 2009-10, his final season with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the AHL, Lovejoy played games on three straight days seven times. On six of those occasions, the three-in-three was part of a stretch of four games in five days.
A typical itinerary would see Lovejoy and the Baby Pens play at home on a Wednesday, bus 400 miles to Norfolk, Va., for games Friday and Saturday, then ride 300 miles to Hershey for a late-afternoon Sunday finale.
“I vividly remember three-in-threes and four-in-fives,” Lovejoy said. “It comes down to mental toughness by the end. You have to be dialed in from the drop of the puck and play that way for the full 60 minutes because you’re not going to have the jump to make up for mistakes.”
Four-in-fives were eliminated when the AHL went to a 76-game schedule in 2011-12, but three-in-threes remain. As much as Lovejoy hated them, he admits they were beneficial in the long run.
“The five o’clock game in Hershey on a Sunday that I probably played 40 times was absolutely a great test and a great mid-term exam for these three-in-fours that we’ve played a lot of this year,” he said.
Coach Mike Johnston gave an update on defenseman Olli Maatta, who has resumed skating after suffering an upper-body injury Nov. 17 against Minnesota. At the time, the team said Maatta would miss three to four weeks.
“He’s continuing to skate and work out, and things look fairly positive right now,” Johnston said. “We’ll probably have a better idea on a timeline at the beginning of next week.”
The Penguins made no lineup changes after Wednesday’s 4-3 overtime win over St. Louis, scratching rookie winger Daniel Sprong and defenseman David Warsofsky.
Sprong, who has been scratched for four straight games, has his easiest path to the lineup blocked by Sergei Plotnikov, whose game seems to be rounding into form.
“The key thing every night is you’re trying to put together your best lineup, and ‘Plots’ certainly has responded,” Johnston said.
Saad changes linemates
Columbus coach John Tortorella didn’t like the way his team’s forwards played in a 2-1 win over New Jersey on Wednesday, so Gibsonia native Brandon Saad got a change of scenery.
He was switched from a line with left wing Boone Jenner and center Ryan Johansen to a line with left wing Scott Hartnell and center William Karlsson.
Saad bounced back from a stretch of five straight scoreless games in late October with six goals and 11 points in his past 12 games heading into Friday night.