|ESPN.com: NHL Playoffs 2014||[Print without images]|
LOS ANGELES -- Inescapable while watching the dominating performance of the San Jose Sharks early in these playoffs is just how fresh they look.
They've got so much jump, so much energy.
And you start to wonder, did having just four players go to the Sochi Olympics turn into a blessing in disguise for them?
While fellow contenders sent more players to the Olympics -- and some of those players complained of fatigue down the stretch of the regular season -- the Sharks look like a team that has plenty of juice left in the tank.
While Antti Niemi, Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski and Marc-Edouard Vlasic did go to Sochi, other top-minute players such as Logan Couture, Joe Thornton, Brent Burns, Dan Boyle and Brad Stuart were able to rest their bones during that February break. They simply look rejuvenated right now.
"I think so," Couture concurred Wednesday. "With our team, there were a lot of injuries as well during the season. A lot of guys missed some games. You come back energized, Tomas [Hertl], Raffi [Torres], myself. The Olympic break was nice for me personally to go back home and spend time with my family and refresh and get away from hockey and come back for the push at the end of the season and now the playoffs. I think as a group we feel pretty good."
That's another good point Couture brings up -- Hertl and Torres missed most of the season because of knee surgeries, and have looked full of energy since returning. Torres looks like a rocket that has been launched.
A lot of credit goes to the Sharks' coaching staff as well. They tried to manage playing minutes right from the start of the season, knowing this would be a compressed schedule because of the Olympics. They wanted their guys ready for the playoffs. So that meant playing four lines all season as much as possible and not overtaxing the top guys.
"We want to be a four-line team and I think it has paid off right now," coach Todd McLellan said. "We want to make sure that guys can play for long periods, overtime for example. We also want everyone to feel like they're important, and you have to play people to get them to feel that way."
Of course, convincing top players during the regular season that playing a bit less is a good thing long term -- well, that can be another matter.
"Throughout the season, at times, a lot of us wanted more," veteran defenseman Boyle said Wednesday. "I'll use myself as an example, playing 18, 19, 20 minutes, it was frustrating at times. But I think they probably had the big picture in mind and hopefully it's going to pay off here when it counts."
As for the four Olympians, the coaching staff tried to ease them back in after the break. As a result, while some teams have complained about the energy levels of some of their Olympians, San Jose hasn't seen that.
|Resting key players during the Olympics seems to have benefited the Sharks.|
"We haven't felt that with Vlasic, Marleau or Pavelski, for whatever reason," McLellan said. "They came back. They played right away. We had a plan for them as far as getting rest on some of the practice days. We haven't seen a dramatic drop-off in energy level or anything like that."
Marleau, who played a key role on Team Canada's gold-medal squad, said he felt fine despite all the hockey this season. But then he added: "Although I try not to think about it." Perhaps a little mind over matter is happening there.
"The guys that went [to Sochi] will tell you how they feel and probably won't tell you how they really feel," said Boyle, a 2010 Olympic gold medalist with Team Canada. "But I'm sure [the non-Sochi players] benefited overall from getting that time off. For sure."
Even more beneficial for the Sharks would be to finish off the Los Angeles Kings Thursday night with a sweep in their first-round series. More rest would be golden for what is hoped to be a long playoff run.
"You have an opportunity to give yourself a few days extra to prepare and get the body feeling better," Stuart said. "If you can, you take advantage of it. We talked about it this morning."
Stuart pointed back to a series between San Jose and Detroit a few years ago, when he was with the Red Wings. The Sharks were up 3-0 in the series, but the Red Wings forced a seventh game.
"The Sharks ultimately won, but how did that affect them in the next series?" he said. "You want to make sure you're not putting yourself through extra wear and tear on the body if you can avoid it."