NHL Playoffs: Better to Coast in Rested or Scratch and Claw in Battle-Tested?
Towards the culmination of the season in every sport, coaches with their teams locked in a playoff position are faced with a tough question that all of their team's fans anxiously await an answer.
Should I rest my star players for the playoffs? Or should I keep them in the lineups and try and win as many games possible?
Will Vancouver head coach Alain Vigneault play Cory Schneider to rest goaltender Roberto Luongo? Will Bruce Boudreau give Alex Ovechkin time off so the Capitals can finally make the Stanley Cup run that Washington fans have been waiting for?
We all know that the star players on bubble teams will be playing in all of the remaining games because their teams can not afford to lose points. There is no doubt that Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen will be between the pipes for the rest of the season.
It's obvious that Steven Stamkos will be firing pucks on net for each remaining game so the Lightning can chase the division leading Capitals.
Now, with a little more then a week left in the season, there are many NHL coaches that are faced with the dilemma of whether or not they play their superstars. The main question is: Is it better to rest players or is it in the team's best interest to continue to play everyone?
The answer to this question is simple.
They do not need the rest. Keep playing your stars.
I understand how coaches and some fans are scared of injury. If Ovechkin got hurt, do you think the Caps would do anything in the playoffs? Do you seriously think the Canucks would get as far without Luongo?
However, head coaches can not have the pessimistic mindset of fear that a key player would get hurt.
The key to winning a championship is to get hot at the right time. Look at the NCAA basketball championships. If a team gets hot at the right time, they can go far and maybe even win the whole thing.
For instance, take the Connecticut Huskies. This team finished 9-9 in the Big East. They then won five straight and were named the Big East Tournament champions, were named a three-seed and now find themselves playing in the Sweet 16.
The same aspect can be place in the NHL. If players are forced to rest, it can hurt the team in the long run because teams can get "cold."
Last season, the Montreal Canadiens got hot at the right time. Behind goaltender Jaroslav Halak, the Habs made it all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals after beating two of the NHL's powerhouse teams in the Penguins and Capitals.
Let's say that the Sharks promptly decide to give Anti Niemi some rest before the playoffs start. They then chose to play Antero Nittymaki the remaining games so Niemi is "well-rested" for the postseason. That means Niemi would not see any game-action for nine games.
If I am a head coach in this situation, I certainly want my goaltender to see as much action as possible so that he is as sharp as he can be come playoff time.
Sure, the rest may be nice and the players might enjoy a couple days off the ice. However, these players are paid to play the game and it's their goal to win a championship.
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