Canadiens head coach Michel Therrien jokes with Montreal Canadiens right wing Brian Gionta during team practice in Montreal on Monday, Dec. 9, 2013.
Photograph by: Allen McInnis, The Gazette
TARPON SPRINGS, Fla. — The Canadiens were scheduled to jump on a plane and return to Montreal following Tuesday night’s game against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Instead, they enjoyed a good night’s sleep and woke up at the Innisbrook Resort, the premier golf destination on Florida’s Gulf Coast, where they enjoyed a day off to golf, play tennis or simply soak up the sun at one of the resort's six pools.
Earlier on this road trip, the players enjoyed another day off at a beachfront Marriott resort in Fort Lauderdale.
And instead of stopping in Montreal, the team will practise in Florida Thursday and then fly directly to Ottawa for a game against the Senators Friday night (7 p.m., CBC, RDS, TSN Radio 690).
The days off are part of a concentrated effort on the part of the Canadiens management and coaching staff to ensure the team is well-rested while dealing with a gruelling 82-game schedule.
While the new collective bargaining agreement mandates four days off each month, coach Michel Therrien has been generous in providing his players with extra free time. During the course of the season, he has made practices optional and has scrapped some practices and morning skates.
“It’s a demanding schedule,” Therrien explained. “We have to play X amount of games in a short period and it’s important we approach games with a lot of energy. But I have to see that we get the energy and it’s important to be well-rested.
“We play a demanding style,” Therrien added. “I always believe we’re a four-line team and that allows us to play at a fast pace. We have to manage that.”
The players appreciate the breaks in the routine.
“We absolutely like the way Michel handles the time,” goaltender Carey Price said. “The seasons are long. In hindsight, we’re not working 9-to-5, but we’re putting in a pretty physical 4-to-5. Over the course of the season, it’s not just the physical, but it’s more the mental toll. It’s good to get those days off.”
Said defenceman P.K. Subban: “The way we play is a very demanding style of hockey. We’re in your face, we’re on the puck, we’re a very fast, explosive team, and to play that way for 82 games and then into the playoffs you need to be rested. At this time of the season, it’s not so much how you feel physically as it is to be fit mentally.”
Subban reflects the feeling of most snow-weary Canadians when he says Florida is the perfect place to recharge your batteries.
“I feel being here in Florida with the sun is just what we need and we’re responding to it,” Subban said. “You can feel the energy. (The other night against the Panthers) guys wanted to be out there and we were making plays. The sun can have that effect on you.”
Subban spent his day off in Fort Lauderdale visiting with family members and hanging out with the son of his power-skating coach.
“Florida is a great place to be,” the defenceman said. “I come down here a lot in the summer. I love Montreal, but it’s a little cold there right now.”
Price said the change in the schedule was a pleasant surprise.
“At the end of the day we still have to come to work, but it’s nice to get a little reward,” the goaltender said. “This is a bit of treat for us. In my seven years here we’ve never had this much time off.”
Veteran defenceman Francis Bouillon can go back longer than seven years with Therrien. Bouillon played for Therrien in 1996 when the Granby Prédateurs won junior hockey’s Memorial Cup and he played for Therrien during the coach’s first stint with the Canadiens. He said Therrien has become more aware of the players’ needs.
“He talks to the players, he talks with the captains and the assistants to get an idea of the mood of the team,” Bouillon said. “He has a good sense of when we have to work hard and when we need that rest.”
Therrien agrees that his coaching style has mellowed over the years.
“It’s experience,” he said. “That’s what happens when you get more grey hairs.”
NHL hearing for Murray: Canadiens defenceman Douglas Murray learned Wednesday that he will have a telephone disciplinary hearing with the NHL at 11 a.m. Thursday for an elbow to the head of Mike Kostka that knocked the Lightning defenceman out during Tueday’s game. The Lightning announced Wednesday that Kostka has been diagnosed with a concussion and that there is no timetable for his return.
© Copyright (c) The Montreal Gazette