UNIONDALE, N.Y. - During his 1,054-game career, Craig Berube didn't take many days off. If there was an optional practice, Berube was likely on the ice.
"That's because I didn't play a lot," Berube said with a smile. "I needed to work on my game."
Now, walking the tightrope between practice and rest for his players is one of the toughest challenges Berube has faced in his 3-month run as a head coach.
The Flyers will play three games in 4 nights this week for the second week in a row. They are in the midst of a gauntlet of 15 games in 29 days in January, with two separate West Coast trips serving as bookends. It is an Olympic year, after all.
"Right now, it's just a real compact schedule," Berube said. "There's a lot of games in a row. It's a tough 2 weeks, so I think it's important to be rested."
Berube may not wanted to have practiced his players yesterday, even coming off a game in which they performed poorly in the first two periods, but the Flyers play an afternoon game today with no pregame morning skate. There is precious little time to actually practice important nuances like breakouts, transition regroups and special teams.
The Flyers have survived the toughest stretch of their 82-game slog, playing an amazing 22 out of 31 games on the road. But that doesn't mean it's getting any easier.
The road is clear. Out of their final 31 games, 24 of them will be played against teams who are currently in a playoff spot. When you take out the Islanders and Hurricanes to start this week, that makes it 24 of 29, plus one against Detroit who is currently tied for a playoff spot.
They also have a ridiculous California swing, against the Anaheim, Los Angeles and San Jose on tap next week - a trip that has eaten other teams alive. Next Thursday's game against the Ducks (20-0-2 at home) could be to match the Flyers' NHL record for unbeaten streak at home to start a season.
Still, the schedule - 19 out the last 30 at home beginning tomorrow - could be favorable if the Flyers make it that way. After their trip out West, the Flyers will need to get on a plane for just a handful of games (Toronto, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Boston and the two Florida teams) and the rest of their road trips (Washington and New York) are nearby.
Rest, and diligence in games against opponents below them in the standings, will be key.
"I think the good thing is you don't think about the schedule too much, because of the way it was last year [with the lockout], playing every other night," Luke Schenn said. "I also think the coaches have done a great job, too, just giving us time off from practice. It's a tough schedule, but everyone's going through it. It's not just us."
Bourdon's long road
Marc-Andre Bourdon last skated in a professional hockey game on Nov. 30, 2012. So, you can imagine the surprise Bourdon stirred when he took part in yesterday's practice with the Flyers.
Bourdon, 24, has been more or less an afterthought for the Flyers since sustaining his third career concussion early last season. Many wondered aloud whether he would ever play again.
Turns out, with the help of a medical team in Michigan, Bourdon will need just one final clearance from a team doctor today to return to full activities.
"Marc-Andre has continued his rehab the last couple months," Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren said, "and has improved to the point where we anticipate him being loaned to the Phantoms this week and getting back on the road to playing professional hockey games."
Bourdon played 45 games with the Flyers in 2011-12 - a true bright spot on a defensive roster riddled with injury. Now, Bourdon's feel-good story finally has a new chapter to be written.
Bourdon is playing on a one-way NHL contract this season, but since he already cleared waivers in September, he will not be subjected to only a 14-day conditioning stint. Once he is back with the Phantoms this week, he can finally concentrate on just playing again.
"Guys don't quit. But at the same time, we've got to start winning hockey games in a better fashion. We've got to clean up some things and everybody realizes that. We've got to start playing better hockey."
- Steve Mason, whom Craig Berube called a "victim" after being pulled in the second period on Saturday, on the Flyers' ninth third-period comeback of the season.