For additional insight into the Eastern Conference First Round series between the Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers, NHL.com has enlisted the help of Craig Berube to break down the action. Berube will be checking in throughout the series.
Berube, 50, was coach of the Philadelphia Flyers from 2013-15. He was a Flyers' assistant coach for six seasons prior to being promoted to coach Oct. 7, 2013. The Flyers were 75-58-28 under Berube. They made the Stanley Cup Playoffs and lost to the Rangers in the first round in 2014.
Special teams typically become a swing factor in any Stanley Cup Playoff series. When the special teams battle is lopsided, typically you see a short series.
Considering that, it should be no surprise the Pittsburgh Penguins are on the verge of advancing to the Eastern Conference Second Round. They have a 3-1 series lead against the New York Rangers entering Game 5 at Consol Energy Center on Saturday (3 p.m. ET; NBC, SN360, TVA Sports).
The Penguins are 7-for-19 on the power play (36.8 percent) and 15-for-16 on the penalty kill (93.8 percent). The following is Berube's breakdown of why the Penguins have been so dominant on special teams:
POWER PLAY: It comes down to execution, Berube said. Yes, they have the skill, but they are gaining the zone, zipping the puck around without overpassing it, getting it low to high and into the middle of the ice, and firing away with Patric Hornqvist providing the net-front presence.
Hornqvist initially was given credit for a double-deflection power-play goal at 7:11 of the first period in Game 4, but it was switched to Sidney Crosby instead. Crosby had the first tip and Hornqvist provided the screen. Evgeni Malkin scored on a one-timer from inside the blue line in part because Hornqvist was screening Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist.
"Hornqvist in front of the net, that's the key," Berube said. "He's really good there. He's probably as good as Wayne Simmonds [of the Flyers], or around the same. He does a great job screening the goalie, tipping pucks."
The Penguins put Crosby in the slot area on their power play in Game 4, creating a high-low screen. That's how he scored.
"It's pretty simple," Berube said. "They get it to the middle of the ice up top, they shoot it, and then they've got traffic in front of the goalie. That's really how power plays are consistently successful. Simple, but with very good puck movement because they've got a lot of skill. It's pretty basic, but they have a concept. Get it up top, get the shot through and get good traffic in front of the goalie."
Berube said it's the same concept that made the Detroit Red Wings' power play so effective for so many years.
"No difference," he said. "They had [Tomas] Holmstrom in front of the goalie and [Nicklas] Lidstrom shooting pucks from the top and getting them through."
To counter, Berube said the Rangers have to find pressure points better than they have in the first four games. The Penguins' point men generally haven't been closely covered, and as a result they've found lanes for seam passes and one-timers from up top.
"I would push down the wall a little bit more and not make that pass so easy to the top," Berube said. "I would add more pressure. If it did get up top, it would take the guy in the middle of the ice to get out there and be in the shooting lane, block that shot. But I would force them to move the puck quicker than they want to by putting more pressure on."
Video: Malkin's 4 points help propel Penguins to game 4 win
The goal is to take away the time and space from Malkin and defenseman Kris Letang at the top.
"I wouldn't allow them to get that puck through," Berube said. "And the defenseman in front of the net, he has to do a better job of either blocking Hornqvist out or fronting pucks and blocking them. It's point pressure and just disrupt it a little bit more."
PENALTY KILL: The Penguins are winning the neutral zone on their penalty kill, stymieing the Rangers' breakout and not letting them get set up when they rush it up the ice. On the rare times the Rangers have gotten set up, the pressure keeps coming from the Penguins' penalty killers.
That's part of the reason why the Rangers have 20 shots on goal on their 16 power plays in the series. They haven't had the time and space to get enough shots to create second-chance opportunities.
"Pittsburgh has lots of speed and they're using their speed very well," Berube said. "They're not giving the Rangers any time. They're forcing them to do things quickly."
Even though Conor Sheary's goal was a 5-on-5 goal, Berube used it as an example of what the Penguins are doing on the penalty kill.
Video: PIT@NYR, Gm4: Sheary swipes puck, rips goal
"It's like [Kevin] Klein is on the power play, trying to go to the half wall, and Sheary is right out on him, breaks the clamp and gets a breakaway for the goal," Berube said. "It's pressure. They go. They go hard and they go with everybody. It's not one guy; it's everybody. Everybody is forcing pressure at the same time so they're in good sync right now and they're not giving the Rangers any time. And when the goalie has to make a good save, he does. That's a big part of it. The save percentage on the [penalty kill] has to be real good if you want to have a good penalty kill."
Berube said he isn't ready to count the Rangers out just because they're down 3-1 in the series and getting beaten in the special teams game. He has seen them come back from 3-1 against the Penguins in the 2014 playoffs and against the Washington Capitals last year. He won't rule out the possibility of it happening again.
"They have good character," he said. "They've got the goalie and they're a well-coached hockey team. They're going to give it all next game. And if they can get a win then they're back in it. That's the way they're looking at it. 'Go win one game and we're back in it.' "