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. 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 need a jolt of offense if they're going to get even with the New York Rangers in their best-of-7 Eastern Conference First Round series on Saturday.
Former NHL assistant coach Dave Farrish thinks the Penguins will have a better chance of getting it by putting Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin on the same line to start Game 2 at Madison Square Garden (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA).
"I would do that to start the game just to create that offensive opportunity right off the bat, maybe put [the Rangers] on their heels," Farrish said. "You saw after the Rangers scored their first goal [in Game 1] they took over a lot of the dominance of the game and it comes from a confidence level after having scored a goal."
Farrish thinks going with the elite combination of Crosby and Malkin three or four times per period, particularly on a shift before an approaching television timeout, will give the Penguins a better chance to get out of their offensive slump.
The Penguins have scored 26 goals in their past 16 games. They were defeated 2-1 by the Rangers in Game 1 on Thursday. Crosby has one goal in his previous 19 Stanley Cup Playoff games. Malkin has no goals in his past 11 games.
"From a coaching point of view you can find those situations when you know there is a timeout coming or after the Rangers ice the puck, and after that you can get back to your regular structure," Farrish said. "I would look for them to probably be doing something like that."
Farrish said forward Chris Kunitz should be the third player on a line with Malkin and Crosby. Farrish coached Kunitz in Anaheim.
"He was the guy that we used to put on any line that wasn't going because he seemed to generate that energy and offensive opportunities because of his speed and tenacity and ability to go to the net," Farrish said. "That's kind of the downside with putting [Daniel] Winnik up there. I love Winnik as a compete guy and he does have some offensive capabilities, but I always felt Kunitz was a better fit with Crosby. You can throw Malkin with them three or four shifts a period. That's part of the coaching chess match too. The opposition doesn't know when that's coming out, so if you throw them out there together you can put the Rangers on their heels too."
Even with Crosby and Malkin together on a line, Farrish said the Penguins won't be able to generate sustained pressure unless they get their defensemen involved. If they don't, their forecheckers will be outnumbered, retrieving pucks will be difficult and their chances of generating turnovers that lead to Grade A scoring chances will be limited.
The problem is that the Penguins don't have defenseman Kris Letang to join the rush, lead it from the back end or be the fourth man in on the forecheck because he is out with a concussion. Christian Ehrhoff, who also has the ability to get involved offensively, is day-to-day with a concussion and missed Game 1.
Pittsburgh's defense in Game 1 featured Taylor Chorney and Brian Dumoulin, each of whom spent the majority of the season in the American Hockey League. Paul Martin has the ability to join the rush, but he is being tasked with playing significant minutes against the Rangers' top forwards.
"You have to get the defense involved and obviously without Letang and some of the other guys they're missing there it's tough for them to do that," Farrish said. "You're going to have to really rely on [Crosby and Malkin] for at least a goal a game minimum, but without Letang in the lineup it really is a drain on them because they can't generate the offense with the quick breakouts and even the stuff through the neutral zone. They're kind of handcuffed."
That said, Farrish still thinks the Penguins proved to themselves in Game 1 that if they stay out of the penalty box they can compete with the Rangers.
The Penguins gave New York four power plays in the first period, and defenseman Ryan McDonagh cashed in to give the Rangers a 2-0 lead before the first intermission. Pittsburgh scored the only goal after that and the shots on goal were 20-20 in the final 35 minutes.
"The Rangers have three lines that can score, and even their fourth line can get some opportunities; after the two lines with Pittsburgh it gets pretty lean there," Farrish said. "Over time, based on 5-on-5, certainly New York has a definite edge there. The Penguins showed they can compete with them [Thursday] night, but over a seven-game series it's going to be difficult."