PITTSBURGH - It's always nice to have some rest in the middle of the grueling Stanley Cup playoff grind.
Little did the Pittsburgh Penguins know they'd have enough time to take a Caribbean cruise before starting the Eastern Conference final.
The Penguins eliminated the Ottawa Senators last Friday night. At this typing, the best information is they'll start their series against the Boston Bruins on Saturday.
The rest helps. Players have bumps and bruises, and they've been playing at an intense level. There could be two more series to play.
But a week's layoff is too long. The practice time isn't needed at this point in the year, and it's unnatural to go this long without playing a game. Once the regular season started following the lockout, the longest gap without a game was three days, and that only happened once.
Players are accustomed to playing frequently, and that's been interrupted.
There are several factors that go into the scheduling. The first is obviously television. The NHL will do whatever NBC wants.
There's also the issue of building availability. There are some schedule conflicts for the surviving teams. Most buildings don't count on hockey in June, especially in a year when it looked like there might not be a hockey season.
One good thing about all of this: Kids who want to watch games won't have to worry about staying up too late. School will be finished before the NHL season is.
The most positive development for the Pirates has been the offensive resurgence of Neil Walker.
It was a rough start for Walker, who seems to escape a lot of criticism. Maybe that's because he's a local guy. But the fact is he didn't produce at the expected levels, and the Pirates need him to contribute.
Walker is reaching a point where the Pirates have to consider whether they should try to sign him long-term.
He needs to start making his case.
Wait and see
James McDonald had a perfectly awful rehab start for the Curve on Monday, but it's too soon the write him off.
He hadn't pitched in several weeks, which could account for his poor work.
Teams never have enough pitching, and the Pirates need to exhaust every possibility before they give up on McDonald. He was as good as anyone in the first half of 2012, building on the steady improvement he'd shown the previous season.
He made six major league starts this season, four bad and two good.
There's still talent there. The challenge is to get McDonald to show it on a consistent basis.
It's never easy to be patient, but it's always necessary.
Mehno can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org