The New Jersey Devils will need an inspired effort from Zach Parise in tonight's Game 6 clash. Their best offensive player must exert his influence on every step of their attack.
Parise has been quiet for the majority of the Stanley Cup Finals. His first goal, and point, came in New Jersey's pivotal Game 5 victory.
Other than that, the Devils' most talented scorer has been quiet. In an interview with Sporting News, Devils coach Peter DeBoer had this to say about his captain's play.
He's creating opportunities. They're eventually going to go in. He's had these type of situations before. I'm not concerned about his game. I know it's going to come.
If the Devils want to force a Game 7 tonight in Los Angeles, they will need Parise to capitalize on some of those opportunities that DeBoer mentioned.
Let's take a look at what Parise needs to do and what his influence means to this team.
What Needs to Change?
The Kings are defensive-minded and backed by the NHL's hottest goalie. Jonathan Quick's stalwart presence between the pipes and Los Angeles' capable group of defensemen have stifled the offensively-challenged Devils' squad.
Before Game 5, the Devils had five goals in four games. Two goals in Game 5 can be considered an offensive eruption.
Who is more important to Devils' offense?
New Jersey's offensive woes can change quickly if Parise finds a way to free himself up.
The Kings have placed a focus on keeping the puck away from him and Ilya Kovalchuk. They know the Devils' offense is strapped for skill without the presence of their two goal-scoring artists.
In Parise's case, he must rely on his strengths to break this pattern. He is a feisty player who gives 110 percent each time he sets foot on the ice. His team-first attitude blends perfectly with New Jersey's defense-first, forechecking tactics.
He must find space for himself, loosen his grip on the stick and have fun. Loosening up will allow him to calm down, capitalize on opportunities and lead this Devils team by example.
Parise's Impact on New Jersey
In the same Sporting News interview, DeBoer sums up Parise's influence perfectly.
Zach's game is so much more than the stat line. He's the heartbeat of our team. He's the identity of our team. He forechecks, he backchecks, he kills penalties, plays in all situations. He really is our barometer. He's the guy that makes us go, whether he's scoring or not.
I'd say he sounds important, wouldn't you?
Without Parise, the Devils are a team without their heart. Martin Brodeur has been a Devil longer, but his influence ends at the blue-line. Parise makes a difference on every inch of the ice, and that must shine through in this series' sixth frame.
New Jersey's supporting cast draws on Parise's fiery passion throughout the game. We saw the same thing from USA's Olympic hockey team two years ago.
Parise is just one of those guys. He affects the game even when he isn't touching the puck. Younger players draw on his energy and older players admire his passion for the game's finer points. His willingness to make the pretty play, or do the dirty work, is the motor behind the Devils' machine.
A driving influence is necessary for any team to be successful, but Parise also has to produce. Great players rise to the top when their team needs them the most.
With their backs against the wall, the Devils need Parise now more than ever. A goal from their captain Monday night would inspire this team, and it could provide the only edge they need to force a Game 7.