Saturday, April 21, 2018 | 2 a.m.
During the Golden Knights’ bye week in mid-January, Erik Haula posted a photo of himself and seven teammates relaxing on a boat in Mexico. General manager George McPhee joked that won’t be happening this time around.
The Golden Knights will have more than a week off between playoff games when it opens a series Wednesday or Thursday against the Sharks. This layoff is different — no fancy trips; just preparing for San Jose.
“This is not like the bye week where they have five days off and they’re not skating and they’re not training,” he said. “We’re not going to Mexico.”
Vegas lost three of its next four games following that bye week, causing some concern that the players lost focus. This week will be spent hard at work.
“We want to keep them sharp and keep doing the things we’ve done all season long,” coach Gerard Gallant said. “Maybe we’ll have a little 3-on-3 scrimmages, and probably have more competitive drills with defensive zone coverage because there is so much time in between. You want to make sure the guys have some contact and some bumping and game-like situations.”
Simulating playoff hockey at practice is impossible, but the atmosphere at City National Arena is about as close as a practice facility can come. Friday morning hundreds of fans packed the stands, chanting “Go Knights go!” throughout the drills.
“I thought today’s practice was fun,” Gallant said. “The crowd was into it a little bit. Guys are working hard. They skated hard, they worked hard and they were happy to get back on the ice. They had great energy.”
Alex Tuch, who scored his first career playoff goal in the series against the Kings, said he does his best to visualize the playoff action and watches games around the league every night.
“I watch a game or two a day,” Tuch said. “I try to keep up on it and watch friends on different teams and see how they’re doing. I always like watching playoff hockey growing up. It was the best time of the year even though being a Buffalo Sabres fan we weren’t in it much.”
There is no discernible stat showing that the layoff negatively impacts a team in the next round. Since 2008 there have been 15 teams with at least seven days off after sweeping a series, and those teams are 8-7 in the first game after the layoff.
The Sharks are going through a similar situation after sweeping the Ducks in their first round series as well. San Jose last played on April 18, a day after the Golden Knights’ last game.
“Neither team has the advantage or disadvantage in that sense,” Tuch said. “We just want to have a really good start to the series and game one.”
The time off allows both teams to get healthy, and McPhee said the Golden Knights are as healthy as they’ve been all season. The only player whose status is questionable is defenseman Luca Sbisa, who was a full participant in Friday’s practice.
“There are definitely benefits,” Gallant said. “Guys that are banged up a little bit get some extra time not having to battle and compete, but again in a perfect world I’d rather have three or four days and then get back at it.”