Although this year was the exception, the Indianapolis Colts typically created annual debates when they would rest starters once their playoff spot was confirmed. For many sports writers, there would be a basic reaction if the Colts faltered. They would blame the accumulated rust for the loss rather than the more likely (but less stimulating) explanation that the Colts just lost to a better team.
You would think that an 82-game season would create more instances in which NHL teams give their best players unofficial “bye weeks,” but that isn’t often the case. Of course, the reasoning is usually simple: the gap between playoff teams and playoff hopefuls is often quite small.
Yet after a few years of pushing the pedal to the metal all season long and then possibly being unable to find another gear once the playoffs began, the Washington Capitals have taken an interestingly measured approach this season. While they clearly are facing some growing pains as they transition from a run-and-gun offense to a more balanced approach, there’s also a sense that the team is learning how to save its best for last.
As you may already know, Alex Ovechkin will miss about a week with an undisclosed injury. When asked what exactly is bothering him, Ovechkin had an amusing response: “Guess.” He didn’t provide any more information other than that the mystery ailment has been troubling him for months.
Well, here’s my guess, then: maybe the Capitals are just being smart by allowing their biggest star to get a rare break.
It’s true that Bruce Boudreau allowed certain Washington players to grab a mini-rest last season, but that was just for a game or two at the very end. Getting a more extensive break could be a subtle boost for Ovechkin, a player who tends to go 100 mph in every game. The fact that he could then shake off whatever imaginary rust he builds up by playing a handful of other contests before the playoffs makes the idea seem that much brighter.
It also makes me wonder: why aren’t other contenders following their lead?
The Vancouver Canucks are showing great moxie in beating desperate teams in games they don’t need to win, but with Manny Malhotra gone for the rest of the season and playoffs, shouldn’t they start to rest the Sedins, Ryan Kesler and other players who will deal with greater burdens? The Philadelphia Flyers are already playing without Chris Pronger, but with the Atlantic Division more or less wrapped up, maybe they should give Mike Richards and other forwards a little siesta? A health-oriented approach might be especially wise for the Detroit Red Wings, being that they have an ample Central Division lead and next to no chance of passing the Canucks for the top seed after losing to them in regulation tonight.
Yes, home ice advantage is important, but going into the playoffs as close to full-strength as possible might be just as vital.
This is not to say that every high-end player should receive a 7-10 mini-vacation, but with a lengthy playoff grind ahead, every little bit of rest could be huge – even if the benefits might not be obvious to the naked eye.