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Pearn: Ducks must take back middle of ice from Kings

by Corey Masisak

For additional insight into the Stanley Cup Playoff series between the Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings, has enlisted the help of former NHL coach Perry Pearn to break down the action. Pearn will be checking in throughout the series.

Pearn has spent the past 18 seasons as an assistant coach in the NHL with the Winnipeg Jets, Ottawa Senators, New York Rangers, Montreal Canadiens and a second tenure with the Jets in 2012-13 and 2013-14.

LOS ANGELES -- The Anaheim Ducks need to find some solutions after scoring three times in two games and falling behind 2-0 in this Western Conference Second Round series with the Los Angeles Kings.

Game 3 is Thursday night at Staples Center (10 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TSN, RDS). Two years ago, the Kings won the first two games in each round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs on the road and then won Game 3 at home.

For the Ducks to avoid a similar fate, they would do well to start utilizing a particular area of the ice surface more.

"I think the Kings have done really, really good defensively of taking away the middle of the ice on Anaheim, and I think the flip side of it is Anaheim hasn't been nearly as good at creating space for themselves in the middle," Pearn said. "When you watch the L.A. attack, they are relentless driving a man through the middle of the ice. They do that so well, that it opens up opportunities like that middle drive and kick out to [Marian] Gaborik where he goes in and scores that early goal in Game 2.

"Los Angeles has been relentless in driving to the net, while Anaheim has done it sporadically."

The Ducks generated a lot of shots in Game 2 on Monday night at Honda Center, but Kings goalie Jonathan Quick had significantly more tough saves to make in Game 1. Anaheim players have spent the two days in between games talking about wanting to make life more difficult for Quick.

"As I watched it, and it's only an opinion, it doesn't seem to me that Anaheim has made that commitment to driving the middle as they have to," Pearn said. "If they do, what it does is it sends a guy toward the front of the net right away on the attack, and now the outside shot has some meaning. You're not going to score on a guy like Jonathan Quick just throwing the puck from the outside, but you create some opportunities if you have bodies at the net and create some traffic. That's also where the cycle can start, and trying to find second and third opportunities.

"I think one thing Anaheim is going to have to do better going forward is more middle drive to put more pressure on L.A.'s defense to back in and protect. Maybe that will create more space for Anaheim to use."

Conversely, Los Angeles has won twice in this series without playing at the level the Kings found in their final few games against the San Jose Sharks in the first round. Coach Darryl Sutter said the team was "fortunate" to win Game 1 in overtime, and then the Ducks carried the possession battle in Game 2.

That's the identity of the Kings, and something they've said they need to get back to.

"The Kings have gotten the lead in both games, and they've played a little differently when they had the lead," Pearn said. "They've just been getting pucks out of their zone, but that means they've been giving it back to Anaheim. The Ducks haven't taken advantage of it, but if they make a few adjustments I think they can. I think L.A. is a much more effective team when they focus on using their speed and skill on defense to make a good first pass and to come out of the zone with possession.

"I thought that third period of the last game was all dump it out, get it and get it out of the zone the simplest, easiest way. It was very effective because they shut the Ducks down. I think moving forward they're going to have to get back to the puck possession game that has made them successful."

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