After watching last night's game, I found myself shaking my head and quickly putting my coaching hat on. Therefore, I wanted share my thoughts and suggested adjustments for Game 2 vs. the Rangers.
There is no debating the fact that the Rangers are a superb team when it comes to blocking shots. They play a sound collapsing system in the defensive zone and have a stellar goaltender to prevent any mishaps. With that said, the Devils forecheck is one to be reckon with and they proved that against the Panthers and Flyers. The only problem is, the Rangers are a much different team than both the Panthers and Flyers. Furthermore, I'm going to breakdown my interpretation of the Devils' offensive strategies to date and the improvements that I deem necessary to come out with a victory.
Devils Offense vs. Florida & Philadelphia: Two words, dump & chase. We noticed that through both series that the Devils have 4 lines that can win puck battles and tirelessly out-work the Panthers & Flyers in the corners. The Devils had done a nice job of cycling the puck, creating 2-on-1s, and generating shots from all angles. The best example of this was Game 4 vs. the Flyers when they posted 42 shots on goal. It's tough for any goalie to stand a chance when they face that many shots and the result was evident. The Devils triumphed, placing them in the Conference Finals.
Devils Offense vs. New York: Proper game & strategy adjustments are the product of any elite coach. Last night proved that in order for the Devils to defeat the Rangers, they must find a way to get shots to the net. It is no surprise that the Rangers do a phenomenal job of clogging the middle of the ice in their Defensive zone, making it extremely difficult for the Devils to generate shots on goal. Still, the Devils stuck to their 2-1-2 forecheck and played "dump & chase" hockey. Many times they were successful in winning puck battles, but let's pause for a moment and play out the following scenario. The Devils are approaching the Rangers' zone and dump the puck when they get to the red line (they most likely wrap the puck around the boards allowing the weak side winger to get to the puck first -- the "weak side" winger is the forward who is on the opposite side of the ice where the puck is not in possession). The Devils' winger now wins the puck battle in the corner. The Rangers now setup the "collapsing" system where they will keep the Devils to the outside with the puck. They have their shot blockers ready in position for any pucks that come through the zone. Keep in mind that the Rangers are not like the Flyers in that they will lose a puck battle in the corner and have no one in front of the net to cover. Yes, all defensemen are subject to giveaways from time to time (as we saw with Girardi & Staal), but you can't bank on that being your sole offensive strategy. The strategy is to get pucks to the net and it is difficult to do so when the Rangers are so quick to react once losing possession of the puck in their defensive zone, giving them the opportunity to do what they do best, block shots. The answer in my opinion is to generate more shots off the rush. The Devils have enough firepower and speed to be able to score off the rush. Basic hockey strategy is when approaching the offensive zone, you send the 1st forward with puck wide, 2nd forward hard to the net (to crash for rebounds) and the 3rd forward stays high to support the 1st forward. It works. Especially when you're facing a team like the Rangers that thrive on opposing teams that allow them to set up their defensive zone coverage. Get the Rangers on their toes! Test Lundqvist! Stop dumping the puck every time you cross the red line.
I understand many of you are going to say that we had our chances yesterday. Two of those chances were taken away nicely by McDonagh (I didn't realize he was that fast). We did cause the Rangers defense to cough up the puck. We did get some shots on Lundqvist. We did not finish. I'm not saying that every Devils line should be looking to keep possession of the puck while gaining the offensive zone. it should be a combination of "dump & chase" and generating offense off the rush. Have the 3rd & 4th lines dump & chase, while the 1st and 2nd look to generate shots off the rush. At this point the Rangers know what to expect. The Devils need to cause some confusion. Nevertheless, it has to be "read & react". Turnovers cannot be prevalent in the remaining games.
Taking a step backwards, if the Devils have possession of the puck in the offensive zone and they move the puck up to the defense, which we saw a lot of last game, the defense need to be quicker to react with the puck. I'd also like to see the Devils have a forward high, more towards the top of the circle, in order to redirect shots from the point. One of the most valued things that I learned as a hockey player was that if you have the puck on the point and you are looking to get the puck to the net, don't just look at the goalie. Look at what is directly in front of you because if you can't get the puck past what's directly in front of you, it's not getting to the net. Lundqvist is screened on almost every shot coming from the points so the Devils need to do a better job of redirecting shots. If you noticed on the Rangers' first goal, Brodeur was screened by 4 players, 1 Ranger and 3 Devils.
I am not one of those Devils fans who is going to look at last night and say, "wow, Lundqvist really is amazing and there's no way we'll get past him". Is he good? Very good. Is de is beatable? Absolutely. The Rangers are beatable. This is playoff hockey and anything can happen at any given moment. I do apologize if this was sort of a rant, but I've had a lot on my mind since last night, hah. I welcome all comments, criticism and suggestions. One last note, for those of you attending the game on Saturday at Prudential, make sure you're loud! Don't let these Rags fans come into our building and disrespect Marty or any other Devils. We need the home ice advantage more than ever. This is our year. Let's go Devils!