SAN JOSE, Calif. — Saturday night’s game against the Sharks marked the third on a six-game road trip for the Blackhawks that leads up to the NHL’s break for the Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
And with the Hawks having notched points in the first two games — playing one of their best games in January in a victory Wednesday at Vancouver — the team knows sustained success rides just as much on their focus on the ice as their rest off of it.
Coach Joel Quenneville gave the players the last two days off in hopes of keeping them fresh for the remainder of the trip. The Hawks will play every other day through Friday. After the Sharks game, they’ll visit the Kings, Ducks and Coyotes.
“[The rest is] huge,” Brandon Saad said. “Tough trip, a lot of games and we’ve done pretty well so far. So we’re looking to stick with that same thing and try to grind it out in the end here.
“Q’s always good with days off. He expects you to come ready to play and take that responsibility.”
Quenneville has been particularly watchful of some of the older players headed to the Olympics.
Marian Hossa, 35, was given Saturday’s morning skate off but was in the lineup against the Sharks. Michal Handzus, 36, didn’t play Tuesday at Calgary, and that paid dividends the next night in Vancouver. Handzus had an assist, two shots and four blocked shots against the Canucks.
Handzus and Hossa will play for Slovakia in the Olympics.
“Especially with a compact schedule with the Olympics [the day off helped],” Handzus said. “We know those days off really help get back with energy, not only physically but mentally also to be refreshed because it’s a lot of games in a short period of time.”
For Quenneville, keeping his players fresh with days off is as important as resting them in games.
Before and after losing in overtime at Calgary, Quenneville reiterated the need for the team to play more consistently top to bottom. Its ability to do that in Vancouver kept players fresh during the game.
A number of Hawks said they felt good in the third period against the Canucks, despite having played the previous night.
“I don’t know what it is with our team, but back-to-backs we seem to be OK,” Quenneville said. “Having four lines and everybody going, during the course of the game you start feeling better when you get a little ice time underneath you. But coming off a disappointing loss in Calgary, I liked their response the next night.”
NOTE: Fourth-liner Brandon Bollig played in his 100th career NHL game Saturday, and Quenneville said it’s a testament to how much his game has evolved.
Bollig initially came into the league because of his grit, but he has added some offensive prowess to his game.
“He’s really progressed,” Quenneville said. “The one element that got him in the league was toughness, and now he’s added other elements to make him a complete player. It’s responsibility without the puck. Offensively, he’s been effective in contributing in that matter.”