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Talking tactics with N.J. checkers

by John McGourty
NEWARK – The New Jersey Devils had a brief practice Friday morning, some skating, some shooting, some brief drills and most were off the ice in a half hour prior to taking the ice for Game 2 against the Carolina Hurricanes.

The Devils know that the Hurricanes are 34-3-3 this season when scoring three or more goals in a game and they averaged 2.97 goals per game. The Hurricanes' top line is centered by 6-foot-4, 210-pound Eric Staal, with wingers Erik Cole and Tuomo Ruutu, a pair of 6-foot, 200-plus pounds. They're big, strong and skilled. Staal had 40 goals. Ruutu had 26 and Cole had 18.

Because the home team gets the last line change, the Devils have been playing John Madden, Jay Pandolfo and Brendan Shanahan against them and talked to the three Devils about keeping the Hurricane big guns quiet. What are they keys to shutting down the line of Eric Staal, Tuomo Ruutu and Erik Cole?

Madden: Being aware of where they are, the tendencies that they have and having a good, solid, five-man unit out there covering them. How strong is Eric Staal?

Madden: Extremely strong and he has very long arms too. For a big man, he's real lanky and he seems to carry the puck way away from his body but with a lot of strength so he's very difficult to cover. He has great athleticism, especially for a big man. He's skilled like little guys and he has a lot of quick moves and a repertoire of things that he likes to do. He's unpredictable and that's why you have to be so aware of what he's trying to do. Jay Pandolfo has had a great career here as a defensive forward. He has sat out a lot of games the second half of this year but he's back playing on your line again and you guys looked good Wednesday.

Madden: Jay and I are really good friends off the ice and on the ice, we feed off each other. They always talk about chemistry on the lines that score, but Jay and I have a chemistry that enables us to play against top lines on other teams. We take pride in that. We had a lot of fun in that game and hopefully we can continue that in this series. Your other winger, Brendan Shanahan, has scored 656 goals and another 59 in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Yet, he's also a very good defensive player.

Madden: He played very well the other night defensively. You don't play 1,200-something NHL games and 650 goals without knowing where the defensive zone is. 'Shanny' adds an element to our line where he is good defensively but also poses a scoring threat. Brendan Shanahan, you have been one of the NHL's greatest offensive stars for two decades and now you're playing with Madden and Pandolfo in the role played so well over the years by Sergei Brylin and Jamie Langenbrunner, that of a checking forward. Is that transition difficult?

Shanahan: You want to play an important role in your team's success. I worked really hard throughout my career to make sure my game was well-rounded. I never wanted a coach to feel there was a certain situation on the ice that I couldn't be on, offensive or defensive. Was if difficult integrating into the line. After all, Madden and Pandolfo know what to expect from each other due to their lengthy experience together.

Shanahan: I could see immediately that those two have great chemistry from playing before. I saw that they read off each other well. I felt it was up to me to read off of them. It's a challenge to get used to new linemates and for them to get used to you so it helps if they are used to each other.
You were counted on for goals in Detroit when you won Stanley Cups there, but Scotty Bowman also used you in important defensive roles. How did that help you defensively?

When you play on championship teams, you learn the importance of playing on both sides of the puck. Scotty Bowman was all about performance and ice time and he owned the ice time. If you wanted it, you had to be able to perform. If you weren't good on defense and not willing to work on it all the time, you weren't going to play. That was a big key to our success.

There was never a moment where he had to take Sergei Federov or Steve Yzerman off the ice because the other team put their first line on. He was able to roll his lines however he wanted. What's the key to shutting down Staal, Ruutu and Cole?

Shanahan: We know they're a great line. We want to limit their time with the puck. It's also important that we attack. Even if we don't end up on the scoreboard, it's important for the three of us to attack their net and make them work on the defensive side of the puck. We're not going to just sit back and defend. That's not how we played them in the first game.
How did adding Shanahan to your line help you defensively?

Pandolfo: He's a strong man and an experienced veteran who is very good defensively as well as offensively. He has great awareness on the line. It's not hard playing with him at all. That must have been frustrating sitting out so many games after being an important part of this team for a decade. Some observers think you might still be feeling the effects of the groin injury suffered the previous season. Is that still bothering you?

Pandolfo: Ahhhhhh, you know, phew, jeez, I just want to play. It's what I love to do. I'm fine.
There aren't too many skilled lines in the NHL that are as big and strong as Cole, Staal and Ruutu. Is it fatiguing to play them?

We're big and strong too.
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