NEWARK, N.Y. – Darryl Sutter says he’s not much of a talker. Waiting doesn’t seem one of his attributes either.
Thanks to the Stanley Cup schedule—and a pair of Radiohead concerts at the Prudential Center—the no-nonsense Los Angeles Kings coach found himself cooling his heels for another day in New Jersey ahead of Game 2 Saturday.
Facing yet another question about his team’s remarkable 9-0 record on the playoff road, Sutter made it clear Friday where he would rather be.
“I’m aware of it—every time you bring it up,” he said of the Kings road record. “Other than that it’s not that important.
“Heck, you know what, we’ve been here four or five days. Jeez, we’d rather have played here yesterday and went home.”
Given that the Kings 2-1 overtime win in Game 1 came Wednesday, there has been plenty of time to examine the two teams.
In a nutshell, both teams say they didn’t play that well in Game 1 and can do better. That’s good news for spectators, who did not get to witness a work of art Wednesday on a Prudential Center ice surface that Sutter called “less than below average.”
“I expect both teams will play hard tomorrow night. You can bet on that,” said Sutter, who also expects the Devils to come out throwing their bodies around.
For the third straight series, the Kings lead on the road. And for the third time in four playoff series, the Devils find themselves under the cosh after losing the opener.
“Getting off to a 0-2 start would be a tough one to overcome,” goaltender Martin Brodeur said as the Devils returned to practice after a day off. “Like they did to every single team they started in the playoffs on the road against. It’s in the back of our heads a little bit.”
Added star forward Ilya Kovalchuk: “Obviously (Saturday) we’re playing for our lives. We can’t go down 2-0, especially in our building.”
Devils coach Peter DeBoer, however, says his team knows what’s needed.
“We know we’ve been here before. I think also after looking at the tape, we know what we have to fix. So I think there’s a comfort level there that we can get that done.”
And despite the Kings’ perfect record away from home, DeBoer says the Devils are getting other benefits than last line change at home.
“I think the big thing is the crowd, the environment, sleeping in your own bed. All those things. I know L.A.’s record kind of, I guess, minimizes the sounds of that with what they’ve done on the road but it’s important to us.
“We’ve been a good home team. We’ve played well here. I know we’re going to throw a good game out there Saturday night.”
Sutter said playing on the road essentially means not having the last line change. But he also said focus too much on line matchups on everything starts going south.
“It’s like talking about playing against (Devils star Ilya) Kovalchuk. Well, that’s the advantage they have,” he said. “If they want to play him an extra two or three minutes, that’s four or five shifts. That’s four or five shifts you don’t get the guy you want against him.
“It’s simple, you can’t chase it.”
DeBoer agrees. For him, getting caught up in the matchup game means abandoning rolling four lines throughout the game—one of the Devils’s strengths.
“The matchup game isn’t something that I’m interested in or worried about. For me, it isn’t relevant.”
DeBoer is interested in having his team test goalie Jonathan Quick more than it did on Wednesday.
“I think we made it too easy on him. We had some opportunities. But we didn’t do enough to make it tough on him.”
And his skilled players have to step up after not playing their best in Game 1.
“I think if you asked our group, there’s a lot of guys on that list,” DeBoer said.
Other than nerves and perhaps the cross-country trip that the Kings took to get here, there hasn’t been much of an explanation for why the two teams did not show their best Wednesday.
Sutter, perhaps, offered the best theory Friday.
“They’re people, they’re not machines,” he said. “All of them don’t always play their best game in terms of what they can bring … We want everybody to bring their best. But, you know what, you get a bad bounce, bad call, bad change, That affects the game. That’s how close the teams are.”
Sutter showed his spikier side Friday as he spent more time in the interview room. It was hardly John Tortorella-like, but the answers grew a little shorter and he politely corrected questioners if he found their premise wanting.
Still, with a variety of scrunchy facial expressions that would do a sock puppet proud, the Kings coach is always enjoyable to watch.
During one news conference this week, he pounded the table and said “awesome” when a Kings official declared there were no more questions.
While Sutter comes across as a hockey Everyman, DeBoer is more professorial but equally entertaining.
The Devils coach enjoys going down Memory Lane, reminiscing fondly about past players even if they are now facing him in the final.
DeBoer called Kings forward Justin Williams, who played for him at the OHL Plymouth Whalers a “great story of perseverance.”
“Got a lot of time for Justin,” he added.
Sutter was equally complimentary of Zach Parise when asked about the Devils captain.
“Tough boy to handle. He’s got the whole package out there. I’m not saying it because we’re playing him, but he is. He’ll be the same player guaranteed in 10 years. People will be sitting there saying the same thing because that’s how he plays the game.”
DeBoer truly does have a bit of the devil in him, shown in an anecdote from his Kitchener Rangers coaching days when he had current King Mike Richards ask for an illegal stick check on Corey Perry, then with the London Knights and now an Anaheim Ducks star.
“We had all been together with the (Canadian) world junior team. And I had found, probably a little unethically, by coaching him that his stick was illegal at Christmas.”
A smiling DeBoer added that while the Rangers’ move led to a London penalty, the Knights scored shorthanded and they lost the playoff series.
“It backfired. So yeah, a funny story.”