NEWARK, N.J. -- I think for a Game 1 that was a couple dogs sniffing each other out, it's what I did expect. I'm not forecasting it's going to be wide-open hockey the rest of the way or that it's going to be any prettier. I think what we saw in Game 1, we're going to see a lot of that in Game 2.
New Jersey just spent a lot of time working on a better attack, a better forecheck in their practice. That's an adjustment that you're going to have to make against the Kings. The other area for New Jersey that I think is going to be necessary is getting a fourth man up the ice. You're going to have to generate some offense as basically a four-man unit in the offensive zone. I noticed in practice the coaching staff had the defensemen in front of their own net and soon as the play went up the ice, they got moving up on the ice, too. That'll be an important part of trying to generate a little more of a sustained attack against Los Angeles.
That's about moving the puck a little bit quicker and supporting the puck in your own zone. Those are basically adjustments that every team has had to try to make against L.A. I thought the team that did it best was Phoenix in the last two games of the conference finals. They started handling the puck a lot better, they went D-to-D better, they had better composure. But they also had better support. I don't think you want to be stuck on an island making a pass against the forecheck of the Kings. Because if you do that, you're going to turn the puck over and at that point, you're not going to be able to recover.
What makes the Kings' forecheck work is where they go. There are spots on the ice to where the L.A. forwards go to. Generally speaking, coach Darryl Sutter was a traditional left winger in his day that hated the right wing of the other team and hated the right D of the other team. Darryl was basically a guy who was influenced by the dots, the face-off circle. You go to a certain area and good things are going to happen. The first forechecker will get in on the puck and the second forechecker will go to a certain area of the ice and generally the puck is going to go to that area.
How do the Devils break that pressure? To me, your center in your own zone becomes more important. He's going to have to curl in traditional style and be an outlet for the D. Instead of the puck always going D-to-D or D around the boards, you're going to have to come down low. As it has been for 100 years in the NHL, your center is going to have to come down low and support the D to be an outlet pass for the D, for the first pass.
If that's not available, you use the boards. But if you get into a board battle with Los Angeles, odds are good they're going to win that. That's what makes them so good. They're very good around the boards. They're systematically very smart, but they're also very big around the boards.
Darryl puts a lot of responsibility on his wingers on the boards. If you turn the puck over in your own zone along the boards, there's no easy out. You're going to hear from Darryl. So your responsibility is to be strong along the boards and chip it by their D and have support going down. Did he change anything? No. I think instead of being a retrieving team, they became more of an attacking team. He didn't want them backing up when they didn't have the puck; he wanted them going forward. That might be the biggest difference.
In Game 2, I would expect New Jersey doesn't cough the puck up as easy as they did. They didn't exactly have a lot of sustained pressure. Even in their own zone when they had the puck, they were easy to knock off the puck. Is that the size and tenacity of L.A., or was it a lack of puck composure by New Jersey? I would expect New Jersey to be better in that area of the ice.
Darren Pang - Special to NHL.com