Less than 24 hours after they faced-off in Game 1 of the 2012 Stanley Cup Finals, two similar teams were also very similar in their analysis of their performances the night before.
The New Jersey Devils pointed to a tentative start, and needing to raise their overall level of play.
“I think we’re going to have to find another level,” said Devils head coach Peter DeBoer. “I feel we have another level. I thought we came out a little tentative, as was expected for a Stanley Cup Final game. I thought we got better as the game went on. That’s a team you’ve got to play sixty minutes against.”
“[The Los Angeles Kings] were good,” added DeBoer. “They were off for a while. We knew they’d be good. I thought we were a little tentative early. Once we got comfortable, I thought we started to play better. We pushed in some spurts tonight, but not enough to have success against that team.”
“They’re a good team. You know, they played a good road game. They came out, they press you. They don’t give you a lot of time and space. They’re big, they’re fast, they’ve got a good goalie. The scouting report we had on them was exactly what we saw.”
But if you ask the Kings, they were not that good, either.
“Our guys said today they felt sluggish [in Game 1],” said Kings head coach Darryl Sutter. “Our guys felt they could play better. That’s a good thing. I’m sure the other team is saying the same thing, too.”
“Seems like we came out a little slower than we wanted to,” said Kings center Anze Kopitar, who scored in overtime to give the Kings 1 2-1 victory in Game 1. “The way we came out, and established the forecheck, had some cycles in their zone, gave us a huge boost.”
“We got the first goal, which was huge for us,” added Kopitar. “After that, we kind of got legs underneath us and we were able to generate some chances.”
But with the Devils coming out on the short end, they have a bit more to improve upon than the Kings, heading into Game 2.
“I think, at times, we were careless with the puck a little bit, and got away from what got us where we’re at, turning it over, and not making the plays that we’re used to making,” said Devils center Ryan Carter. “That created a little momentum for them, some room. You can’t give that up this time of year.”
Devils center Travis Zajac pointed out that Game 1 of a Stanley Cup Finals game is often one where a team is “feeling out” the opposition, a team they do not see more than twice in a season.
“There’s a little bit of feeling out, I think, early on in the game,” he indicated. “It’s weird. You don’t really see the Kings too often. You don’t really know what to expect. We didn’t play at our best, I think. We were a little nervous in the first period, a little tentative. You could see that. We weren’t making plays. We were throwing the puck away a little too much. We weren’t moving our feet and getting on the forecheck like we usually do.”
“We were watching a little bit,” he added. “We weren’t reacting quick enough. We just didn’t execute in a lot of areas. We didn’t execute well enough in our dumps, on our routes. We didn’t win enough battles to keep pucks alive, keep the forecheck going. I think when you get past that first game, it is a series. You get that all out of the system. I think, as the game went on, we did get better. We started to make some more plays. We started to play our aggressive style. So I think we take the positive out of that and we move on.”
“We kind of sat back, waited to learn [about] them a little bit,” said Carter. “That, obviously, is a mistake. We should have gone out there and played our game. We’ll take today and tomorrow, watch the video, learn from it.”
Despite not being very familiar with the Kings, the Devils were not surprised by them.
“I think we knew coming in they were a big team, they were a physical team,” said Zajac. “They were good in the offensive zone, cycling pucks, controlling the play. We saw that a little bit last night from them. They have some defensemen who can jump into the play, and make plays. We knew that coming in. We knew they had a good goalie who could play the puck and make big saves for them. I think we saw all that last night.”
Devils rookie center Adam Henrique, a finalist for the Calder Memorial Trophy, awarded annually to the best rookie in the National Hockey League, gave the Kings quite the compliment.
“They’re a different team than the [New York] Rangers, or other teams we have faced so far,” he noted. “I think they bring a little bit of all of those teams into one. They’re a deep team. They have puck-moving defensemen, solid goaltending. But that’s to be expected. Obviously they’re here for a reason.”
“I think we need to focus on our game, how we need to play,” he added. “Maybe we were a little nervous coming out at the start of the game. We were throwing pucks away. We weren’t hanging onto the pucks, making plays. I think there’s a lot of room for improvement on our side.”
DeBoer said that his team needs to be better in all facets of their game.
“We had a lot of different issues,” he said. “Some of them you give credit to them for what they did. Some of them were self-inflicted. We’ve got to fix them all up. The game starts in your own end breaking out clean, getting through the neutral zone with speed, putting the puck in the right place, running good forecheck routes, keeping pucks alive with pinches.”
“There’s no clean answer to it,” he added. “We’ve got to be a little sharper in all our areas. I think our group has done a pretty good job of self-analyzing, you know, looking at the game and realizing, both individually and collectively where we have to get better. We have two days to do that. We’ll be better on Saturday night.”
“The comforting thing for me is when I listen to the comments of our players last night, they were dead-on. We weren’t good enough. We have to be better. We got over the early game jitters. We started to play a little bit better. But, you know, as a group, we’ve got to bring more to win this time of year.”
“[We’ve] got to start from the beginning, getting pucks behind their defense,” Zajac stressed. “They stand up well. They’ve got back pressure all the time from their forwards. For us, we have to get pucks behind them and go to work.”
“You look at the other series, Philly, Rangers, we were able to create some offense off our cycles, from going high to low, to the points, getting traffic, getting shots [to the] net,” Zajac added. “We definitely didn’t do enough of that yesterday. We’ll have to execute in that part of our game. Hopefully, everything else will take care of itself.”
The Devils missed an opportunity to take the lead in the series, but they believe that there are good reasons to be optimistic.
“For us, we felt that, yeah, we missed an opportunity because we were able to hang around against this team, you know, not playing our best game,” said Zajac. “Still having a chance to win, that makes us feel pretty good that we can play better, be a little bit more successful.”
“The good news is we started in the same hole against Philly, we started in the same hole against the Rangers,” DeBoer noted. “We responded to the situation in the right way the last two rounds, and I expect the same.”
“When I look back at our playoff trail, you know, one of the areas that’s cropped up in every round is we’ve been a little tentative in the first game, you know, kind of felt our way, and then jumped in with both feet in Game 2,” DeBoer added. “I think that’s, hopefully, what we’ll do here again.”
2012 Stanley Cup Final, Los Angeles Kings vs. New Jersey Devils Game 1 Highlights, May 30, 2012
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