The Rangers realize the Kings play a simple, structured game, and they get a lot of pucks on net, where there is usually at least one body or two. They’re extremely hard on the puck. Extremely. All of that was expected.
Now, with four games under their belts, the Rangers understand the intricate parts of the Kings' game even more.
“I don’t know if you can see from up top, but every time we try to break out of our zone, their defensemen basically come [out] on our wingers and make you make some decisions and make you pay a price,” Derick Brassard said Thursday after a midafternoon practice at Staples. “It’s the same in the neutral zone: Every time we try passing on the side, their gaps were really high, and it’s pretty hard.”
Recognizing this is step one.
“Now we’re used to it,” Brassard said. “We know what they’re doing, and we need to be better in that area."
“They do a good job of bringing guys across to the puck and having that late guy come with speed,” Girardi said. "They pull you back with two guys and throw across for that late guy.”
These aren’t hockey cliches coming from the Rangers; these are detailed answers from a team that is getting to know quite well what it is up against.
Next comes the chess match: the small adjustments to try to take away what’s working for each side. The Rangers have already seen those adjustments coming from Darryl Sutter and the Kings. Now they’re happening on both sides.
“It’s just different things,” Rangers forward Brian Boyle said. "It’s on the move, a forecheck, a breakout. Things like that. 'They’re doing this? We’re going to try this.' That’s how it goes.”
Nothing extreme. Just recognizing tendencies and preferences of the opposition, then finding ways to take them away.
“They see certain things that we see in their game, and all of a sudden there’s a stick here that wasn’t there in Game 1,” Rangers defenseman John Moore said. “They’d be taking away certain areas of the ice in Games 1 and 2, and they saw that we maybe recognized that, and then all of a sudden the stick is in the other area. ... When you take a step back, it’s fun to see it, a little bit.”
If the Rangers repeat their Game 4 performance, chances are this series is over tonight. Finding a way to break through and generate more offensive zone time is mandatory. A tweak on the forecheck here or a little change on the breakout there could be the difference in a fairly tight series that could get much tighter with another Rangers win.
Identifying Kings tendencies is the easy part. Doing something to stop them is the hard part.
“You hear about the way they defend, the way they forecheck, and it’s every bit as advertised," Moore said. "There’s not a lot of free ice out there. It seems like you have an option, and all of a sudden it’s taken. They close off quickly. ... You get that familiarity, but I think comfort is almost dangerous. You can’t go in there expecting that you know exactly what they’re going to do -- because they’re going to change it up.”
Now, on to the Friday mailbag:
It’s not so much about the asking price for Joe Thornton as it is the willingness of Joe Thornton to play in Washington D.C. He holds all the cards in this transaction. While I’m in the camp that the Sharks should let it ride with their current group without any dramatic changes (especially considering how close they were to beating the Kings), GM Doug Wilson and coach Todd McLellan feel differently. And I get that.
This San Jose group has had plenty of opportunities to break through, and it simply hasn’t. Wilson is typically a guy with a long-range plan, so if he’s dealing Thornton, it’s to a team that has good, young players to offer in return. Plus, it has to be a destination to which Thornton would approve a deal. If I’m Thornton, I’m not approving any deal unless it’s to a team that is on the cusp of winning a Stanley Cup, which isn’t how I would describe the Capitals.
One solution might be the Anaheim Ducks, who need a No. 2 center and are loaded with young talent. A one-two punch of Ryan Getzlaf and Thornton would be ridiculous. And Thornton loves playing in California, so if he’s going to approve a trade, one to a legit contender in California has to be considered. Would Wilson trade his captain to the Ducks?