Thursday, 10 November 2011

Killing Hockey In 1-3-1 Steps

What a magnificent game displayed on the Versus national feed last night! For forty minutes, we got to watch the Flyers and Lightning in one of the most exciting games in the history of sports! Ok, I'm being just a wee bit sarcastic as the Flyers and Lightning stared each other down for forty minutes... literally. The Lightning, set up in their 1-3-1 defensive trap, didn't forecheck against the Flyers, and so the Flyers just sat back in their own zone and waited. And so did the rest of the world. Was it right for the Flyers to sit back and wait for a forecheck? Sure. Was it right for Tampa Bay to play their 1-3-1 system? Absolutely. So how do we break the stalemate to force one of the two teams to be a little more aggressive than they were on Wednesday night?

Everyone who has an outlet to speak on this game has definitely done so. I was going to write about it yesterday, but I wanted to hear the fall-out from this game and which way people were leaning in terms of who was at fault here. Some side with Philadelphia in that the forechecker should be sent in. Some side with Tampa Bay in that Philadelphia should be carrying the puck out of their zone in order to create offence. My thoughts? Maybe someone should look long and hard at how to beat this trap and send out emails to his or her friends.

Look, it's not like Guy Boucher's trap was any different from last season. In fact, it's very much the same trap we saw in the playoffs last season that more or less forces a defenceman to skate into the heart of the trap. Once that happens, any turnover becomes an odd-man rush the other way for the Lightning, and they have the firepower to convert those advantages. So how does one beat the trap?

The same way every other trap gets beat: make it move. If the Lightning can't set up, they can't employ a trap. If they do, teams have to make the trap move. They can't use obstruction, so make them move by skating hard. Cross-ice passes are risky, so quick, short passes will break down a trap almost immediately.

If I were Chris Pronger, I would have skated up to my blueline to activate Martin St. Louis and the winger. The center position of the "3" would also activate, and that's when the quick drop pass would happen. Get the puck back to my defence partner, and fire a quick pass up the left side while Pronger cuts to the middle. The centerman - Daniel Briere - and the right winger would then turn up ice and the dump-in would happen. It works on paper, but I haven't tried it on ice, so I can't confirm if it works. But the key in this is a QUICK drop pass to a trailing defenceman in the middle of the ice followed by a QUICK outlet pass to the left winger. The faster the puck moves through the trap, the faster the trap will breakdown.

If the high man in the 1-3-1 starts to cheat, that cross-ice pass to the left winger opens up, and the winger should skate towards center to receive the pass before dumping it in. Again, the trap can be beaten, but quick, accurate passes are essential in making this work.

Now it might sound like I'm blaming Philadelphia for what happened on Wednesday, and that's not entirely true. While Philadelphia certainly could have pushed forward into the trap, there's still the business of winning that goes into the NHL game. Philadelphia wasn't going to risk giving up a lead in a 0-0 game, and it appeared Tampa Bay wanted nothing to do with trying to get a lead as they lead Martin St. Louis stand at the blueline waiting for Philly's defencemen to skate out.

If Tampa Bay starts seeing their opponents playing the waiting game, they should adjust their trap by modifying it to a 1-2-2. The 1-2-2 sends a forechecker in to force a defenceman to choose which side he'll start his breakout on, and then cuts off the opposite side of the ice. It's just another form of the trap, but this one forces a defender into a decision.

If Martin St. Louis notices that the Flyers aren't just standing and watching, they can then drop into the 1-3-1 again and play their regular game. The difference between the two traps is that the 1-3-1 exclusively ties the defence to the neutral zone whereas the 1-2-2 can be moved up and down the ice as long as everyone in the trap does their respective jobs.

So we get back to the original question: who is to blame for the lack of action on Wednesday night? If you're asking me, both teams were responsible.

Should either be penalized? No, I don't think you can penalize a team for trying to win through defence, and I certainly don't think that Philadelphia should be penalized because the Flyers blueliners had no pressure to force them to move the puck.

If you're looking for a solution on HBIC for how to make certain this kind of game doesn't happen again, you might be in the wrong place. Was it boring hockey? Undoubtedly, and no one will disagree with that sentiment. But both teams did what they had to in order to preserve their chances to win. The NHL is a form of entertainment, but the business is about winning. You don't win, and your business suffers.

It may not be the popular answer, but I'm not sure that this kind of game can be avoided. Of course, I doubt it will happen every night. In fact, this might be the only time we see this kind of game this season. The fact that it happened, though, shows that there should be some sort of recognition that this type of game is more of an aberration than the norm.

Fans know this doesn't happen often. It just looks out of place when something this unfathomable happens on the ice, and I'm not sure the NHL should make rules to accommodate the exception when the norm is pretty darn good.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

1 comment:

Dylan Didiano said...

I don't understand why they did this though. St. Louis could have skated in and forced the puck off him, he's a quick skater and could have got back if he had to.