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.
Former NHL assistant coach Dave Farrish noticed shortly after the opening faceoff Saturday night at Madison Square Garden how much different the Pittsburgh Penguins' attack is when an effective Chris Kunitz is playing alongside Sidney Crosby instead of Daniel Winnik.
"They have good chemistry and they know where each other are," Farrish said. "Kunitz's speed and also with [Patric] Hornqvist's aggressiveness make them a really good match [with Crosby] and I thought they opened the game up. They were so aggressive and really persistent on the puck, and they created a lot of good scoring opportunities just through that."
Crosby scored twice and Kunitz had three points on a goal and two assists to help the Penguins defeat the New York Rangers 4-3 in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference First Round series.
The best-of-7 series is tied 1-1 with Game 3 set for Monday at Consol Energy Center (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA, ROOT, MSG).
"Obviously they have offensive abilities too," Farrish said. "Kunitz's pass to Crosby on his [second] goal, that might be the difference between him and Winnik, that offensive skillset. That was a big difference and obviously a huge part of the game."
In addition to the goals they provided, Farrish felt Kunitz, Crosby and Hornqvist were significant in the Penguins slowing down the typically speedy Rangers.
"That was obvious right from the get go in two areas for me," Farrish said. "On the forecheck, I thought they did a lot better job of puck placement and they were able to get pucks back, whereas in the first game I thought [Henrik] Lundqvist handled too many pucks and it was an easy out for them. I think also in the neutral zone regroups they were on top of the defensemen much better. They didn't give them the time to go D to D and then give them a chance to get their speed going up the ice to make those great passes. I thought that was a huge difference."
Farrish felt the Penguins were more aggressive in getting inside the Rangers. Both of Crosby's goals were a result of him beating a Rangers' player to the net.
"If you get inside position, you're the first guy on the puck, you're the first guy to the front of the net so they're always defending from the outside in rather than the inside out," Farrish said. "The Rangers have done a really good job of that with their defense, they've been really good at boxing people out from in front of their net, but I thought Pittsburgh did a great job of getting inside in a lot of situations and that caused a lot of problems for New York."
Now that this is shaping up to be a punch, counterpunch series, Farrish said in Game 3 the Rangers have to return to being the team that is hunting down pucks and being the aggressor. That's more their style and a big reason why they won the Presidents' Trophy with 113 points.
Farrish felt the Rangers were too passive in Game 2.
"They have to become the hunters again," Farrish said. "Last game, Pittsburgh became the hunters and the Rangers became the hunted and they were stuck back on their heels for a lot of the game. Pittsburgh was way more engaged in the game from a physical point of view and by going to the net hard, getting second chances, jamming. If the Rangers want to get back on top again they have to take over that attitude where they have to go back on the hunt again, be aggressive, go to the net harder, just create more traffic in front of the net."
That includes on their power play, which is 2-for-12 in the series, including 1-for-7 in Game 2. Normally two power-play goals in two playoff games would be a positive sign for a power play, but not when you've been gifted as many opportunities as the Rangers have by the Penguins through the first 120 minutes of the series.
"They never really got set up because Pittsburgh was really good on the penalty kill," Farrish said. "They were aggressive up ice, really aggressive. When New York did get set up there was some great chances there, but [Marc-Andre] Fleury was the difference."
The Rangers finally took advantage of a power-play opportunity early in the third period, when Derick Brassard converted to cut the deficit to 3-2. The Rangers had seven shots on goal and 10 shot attempts on that power play. They had six shots on goal on their other six power plays.
Farrish said the key on that power play was puck movement and less time stuck on the perimeter, two issues that plagued them on their other six power plays.
"They went with four forwards on the power play and they moved the puck really well from side to side," Farrish said. "They got away from Pittsburgh's aggressiveness because they weren't so static. They were standing still more in the first couple periods, but in the third period if you look at the puck movement, they moved it around really well, found some seams and they really got Pittsburgh tired at the end as well because they were aggressive."