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 Dave Farrish to break down the action. Farrish will be checking in throughout the series.
Farrish was an assistant coach for the Anaheim Ducks and Toronto Maple Leafs from 2005-14. He won the Stanley Cup with the Ducks in 2007. He also coached 1,027 games in the minor leagues, including the American Hockey League. In addition, Farrish, a former defenseman, played 430 games over seven seasons in the NHL.
The Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers have been close through four games in the Eastern Conference First Round, as in an inch here and a bounce there kind of close. They've played four one-goal games, but the Rangers have the Penguins on the ropes with a 3-1 lead in the best-of-7 series.
Despite the two-game hole and being on the brink of elimination, former NHL assistant coach Dave Farrish thinks it would be a mistake if the Penguins change their game plan or panic heading into a must-win Game 5 on Friday at Madison Square Garden (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVA Sports, ROOT, MSG).
"Their game plan is good, what they've done so far," Farrish said. "They've made small adjustments game-to-game. They just need to get some secondary scoring. You could have [Marc-Andre] Fleury continue to play well or even steal a game, but their secondary scoring has to come up and they need to back off on the penalties a little bit without losing their aggressiveness. That's a small thing that can make the difference in a hockey game to maybe get the series turned around for them."
The Penguins won Game 2 on the back of captain Sidney Crosby and their special teams. Crosby scored twice, and the Penguins were 2-for-4 on the power play and 6-for-7 on the penalty kill. They have scored one goal in each of their losses, including two from first-line right wing Patric Hornqvist.
Evgeni Malkin has been held off the scoresheet completely and he has five shots on goal in four games. The Penguins haven't gotten a goal from Malkin since March 6, a span of 14 games that he's played and 22 games overall.
Malkin admitted he is playing with an injury and has labeled himself at 85-90 percent healthy.
"There's lots of talk of him maybe being injured, it's hard to tell, but I saw in the second period [of Game 4] his movement was a lot better, he showed more speed and he stood out more," Farrish said. "It's hard for him to get any movement with the back pressure from the Rangers and their six solid defensemen out there. But a guy of that caliber he can come out and get a hat trick next game. If he starts getting some shots he has the potential to be a two- or three-goal scorer."
Banking on that to happen might seem like a shot in the dark at this point, which is why Farrish believes the Penguins can't stray from their game plan that has at times worked well in the series, such as in the third period of Game 3 and the first period of Game 4.
The problem is the Penguins have scored two goals in those periods. Had they gotten one or two more this series might be even now, or even 3-1 in favor of Pittsburgh.
Farrish said the difference has a lot to do with the ability of the Rangers' defensemen to join the rush and create offensive chances, something the Penguins' defensemen have not done consistently because of depth and New York's back pressure.
New York has gotten 10 points from its defensemen; Pittsburgh has gotten six points from its defensemen.
"The edge goes to New York in that department," Farrish said. "Pittsburgh has tried to do the same thing but they don't have as much of the gift of offense from their defensemen as New York does and really I think that's been the difference in the series so far."
If the Rangers make it the difference again in Game 5 they should be able close out the Penguins. If they come out and play the way they did in the first period of Game 4 they will give the Penguins hope.
"I think they have to go for the kill," Farrish said. "They didn't have a very good start in the last game. They were a little lethargic. Their execution was off. They were throwing hope passes, just coming down the wing and throwing pucks into the middle kind of hoping somebody would get it and get a shot on goal. It caused a lot of turnovers for them so they were on their heels a lot for the first period basically. I just don't think their focus and compete level was where it needed to be. But now you can see the end of the tunnel so to speak and hopefully from their point of view they can have a better start to the game. If they can get a lead they can really demoralize the Penguins."