For additional insight into the Stanley Cup Final between the Pittsburgh Penguins and San Jose Sharks, 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 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.
PITTSBURGH -- Having coached against Peter DeBoer's teams in New Jersey, former Philadelphia Flyers coach Craig Berube has vivid and sometimes nightmarish memories of the aggressive forecheck he now sees from the DeBoer-led San Jose Sharks.
Berube's message to the Pittsburgh Penguins as they prepare for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Sharks on Monday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports) is to stay patient, because DeBoer's teams try to do everything possible to force opponents to make a play before there is one to be made.
"The Penguins are going to get checked and they're not going to feel like they're creating anything," Berube said. "They're going to feel like they're overwhelmed a lot of times. I remember coaching against Pete DeBoer in [New] Jersey, a lot of the same things. You're like, 'Holy, we haven't gotten out of our end.' But when you look at the shot clock, it's only like 6-5 or something like that. The Penguins have to play patient and when they get their opportunities, capitalize on them."
The Penguins have done a lot of capitalizing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs so far. That's how they got this far. But the Sharks have done a lot of forechecking; it's part of the reason why they've gotten this far.
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It's not ridiculous to think San Jose's aggressive forecheck could be the difference in this series, just like the Devils' aggressive forecheck was when they defeated eat the Flyers in 2012 to advance to the Eastern Conference Final. Berube was an assistant coach in Philadelphia at that time.
"They really smother teams with their forecheck, and that's where the so-called speed comes in," Berube said of the Sharks. "They've got three guys on it and their 'D' are really aggressive. They're a red-line team in. They roll the four lines. They get on you and they really check."
However, Berube firmly believes the Penguins have the ability to break the Sharks' forecheck if they continue to play the way they've played through three rounds.
When they've had success, they've made the simple and smart play to get out of their zone. They've had good support from the low forwards, and they've made quick reads. They haven't tried to be fancy when they're under pressure, which is why the pressure hasn't gotten to them often.
"It's not always going to be clean; it's just real important to break the puck out and not get hemmed in there because then they can get skating and do their thing," Berube said. "Their breakouts are going to be key for them and they are going to need real good support."
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Berube said rookie goalie Matt Murray will have to assist in the breakouts.
"He seems OK at [moving the puck]," Berube said. "He's obviously a young kid still learning and he's going to get better and better, but in this series it's going to be a real important key for their defense."
If they can't break the forecheck and the Sharks end up with possession, Berube said the Penguins have to be determined to blocks the shots that come from up top, mainly the ones from defenseman Brent Burns, because he gets it through well and the Sharks are excellent with deflections from in front of the net.
The Penguins are averaging 16.4 blocked shot per game in the playoffs, up from 13.3 in the regular season.
"They've done a great job in the playoffs so far blocking shots," Berube said. "It's hard to box out in today's game with guys getting position in front of the net, and they're strong. It's hard to move them. So they're going to have to get in front of shots."
On the flip side, Berube said Sharks are going to have to deal with the speed of the Penguins coming into the offensive zone and their aggressive retrievals. It's a lot to handle, and it overwhelmed the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference Final, a big reason why the Penguins held such a possession advantage and a 269-178 edge in shots on goal for the series.
The Penguins' speed allows them to be first on pucks when they forecheck. It's not so much a physical battle as much as it just their speed winning out.
"The Sharks do a great job with their back pressure, and they have really good gaps by their 'D'," Berube said. "Their neutral zone is also tight, no room. They need all of that against the Pengu