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 New York Rangers' speed up the ice is a staple of their game and noticeable whenever they're playing well. But it was New York's speed on the back check in Game 3 Monday against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Consol Energy Center that caught the attention of former NHL assistant coach Dave Farrish.
Farrish said the Rangers were dominant in the first two periods en route to a 2-1 win and a 2-1 lead in the best-of-7 Eastern Conference First Round series in part because they were so quick on the back check that it disabled any rush up the ice the Penguins were hoping to have.
"Their back pressure was really incredible and they didn't give Pittsburgh really anything at all off the rush," Farrish said. "It caused the Penguins to turn the puck over at the blue line or just inside the blue line when they were looking for help. I thought that was a big part of the game."
Farrish said it'll be hard for the Penguins to counter against that back pressure in Game 4 on Wednesday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN360, TVA Sports 2, ROOT, MSG) if the Rangers stay committed to being as quick on the back check as they are on their breakouts.
"Obviously they've had it before, but look at some of the instances like [Rick] Nash coming back, they're tracking people down and catching them," Farrish said. "It's tougher to carry the puck with speed than it is without it, and it was really noticeable [Monday] night where I thought the commitment was there in that game moreso than the first two. It certainly had to be a topic of conversation preparing for that game and I think they did a great job of that."
Farrish, though, said there are ways for the Penguins to give themselves a better chance to get sustained zone time, something they did not have in Game 3 until they were chasing a two-goal deficit in the third period and the Rangers were sitting back a bit.
The first way, Farrish said, is to not let Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist play the puck behind the net as often as he has.
"While they were trying to read the play and shut his pass down coming down the boards I think it will still be in their best interest to lay the pucks softer, out of Lundqvist's reach," Farrish said. "It'll allow them to get on the forecheck, where they can punish some of the Rangers' defense on the forecheck. Obviously when Lundqvist has the puck that doesn't give them a chance to be physical with the Rangers' defensemen."
Farrish also said a key for the Penguins will be Evgeni Malkin's line playing more of a dump and chase game than a carry-it-in game.
Malkin, with Blake Comeau and David Perron as his wings, looked faster in the third period than he did in the first two, but he still didn't generate a shot on goal in the game and has no goals in his past 13 games, which was broken up by a two-week absence because of injury.
"I think [Sidney] Crosby's line has the ability and the will to put the puck in and go get it back where maybe Malkin's line tries to be creative coming over the blue line, and that's where the problem exists with the pressure on the back check," Farrish said. "If they're going to be successful I think they're going to have to alter their game a little bit and maybe become more of a cycle line; get the puck in deep, get it back, go low to high, move people around, get back open and then use your creative abilities at that point. You can't score everything off the rush with this kind of pressure coming back at you on the back check."
Farrish doesn't see much that the Rangers have to change. He credited the contributions they're getting from all four forward lines and the "world-class plays" their defensemen are making.
"There is so much more depth on the Rangers team up front and on the blue line," Farrish said. "Over the course of time that spread in depth up front and on defense gives the Rangers the edge. That's why Pittsburgh has to play an almost flawless game. Really you just can't make mistakes, and that's difficult to do especially with the pressure the Rangers come with on both sides of the puck."