Blog Entry

It's a trap: Tampa Bay's system under attack

Posted on: November 10, 2011 1:28 pm
Edited on: November 10, 2011 2:59 pm

By: Adam Gretz

The highest scoring team in the NHL (the Philadelphia Flyers) played a Tampa Bay Lightning team on Wednesday night that featured the most prolific goal-scorer in the league over the past two seasons (Steven Stamkos) and a former MVP (Martin St. Louis). That should result in an exciting game with a lot of goals, scoring chances and back-and-forth play, right? Wrong.

The highlight (or lowlight) of the night, as well as the biggest talking point in the NHL on Thursday morning, is how the game, which Tampa Bay won in overtime, 2-1, had all the excitement of paint drying due to the Lightning's commitment to its 1-3-1 system, and the Flyers' unwillingness to attack it.

If you haven't already seen it, multiple times throughout the game, especially during the first period, the Flyers' defensemen, including Chris Pronger and Braydon Coburn, refused to skate the puck out of their own zone and waited for the Lightning's forecheckers to make the first move.

When that didn't happen, the result was a stalemate unlike any other

And this was a game that was played on national television. That can not be what the NHL wants, and most of the negative reaction has been directed at the Lightning and coach Guy Boucher for playing such a style of hockey.

Versus analyst Mike Milbury, for example, left the set during the second intermission of Wednesday's game in "protest" (though, his night was probably over at that point anyway), while the discussion of whether or not the NHL needs to implement some form of "shot clock" to prevent a team from not advancing the puck the way Philadelphia did has been kicked off.

Depending on your rooting interest you probably have a different idea as to who the winners and losers were in this game. If you're a Lightning fan you're probably happy (and rightfully so) because your team won the game. Flyers fans -- and the Flyers themselves -- seem to be taking great pride in the fact that they embarrassed the Lightning by essentially calling out their style of play and shining some light on how boring the neutral zone trap is (though, we didn't need the Flyers to prove that to us -- we knew that based on watching hockey between 1995 and 2005).

Take, for example, the words of Pronger, via Tim Panaccio of CSNPhilly:
“Would you pay money to see that? I wouldn’t either and that was a [VERSUS] TV game, too. Way to showcase the product. Look at the players they got over there.
“That’s not my job. Maybe Shanny [Brendan Shanahan] should take charge of that, too. I don’t know.
“That is the way they play there all the time, whether it’s us or anybody. If they get down, they go into a two-man forecheck. We were just waiting for them to come in. Force them out of their forecheck or whatever that was. They weren’t forchecking. Their stance, I guess.
“That was their game right there. We were making them look bad. That’s not hockey in my book, but whatever. The league is letting them do it.”
Of course the league is "letting them do it," because there's nothing in the rule book that says a team can't play a certain type of defensive system. And as far as the "making them look bad" is concerned, it should again be pointed out that Tampa Bay did, in fact, win the hockey game, which is still the ultimate goal.

Tampa Bay doesn't pride itself on winning games in style, because if it did, it wouldn't be playing the 1-3-1 to begin with. So it's doubtful the Lightning are going to apologize for the boring manner in which they win games. And they aren't.

"We're sticking to the game plan," said Boucher, via the St. Pete Times. "When we have the puck we're aggressive with it, and when we don't have the puck we dedicate ourselves to being above the puck instead of chasing from behind. It tells me guys are buying in."

Sabres coach Lindy Ruff chimed in on Thursday and according to John Vogl condoned Tampa Bay's style of play, but did add that there has to be an obligation to try and get the puck if the other team has it.

There also has to be an obligation for the team with the puck to move it.

As a hockey fan, of course I would prefer to see a more offensive game that highlights the skill of the players on the ice, so I can't say that I love the way Tampa Bay plays. I certainly respect it, and I respect the way players have obviously bought into Boucher's system, but it is boring. But I also don't want to see anything that would limit their ability to play that style of hockey or restrict a players' on-ice movements, such as the type of "illegal defense" rules the NBA has attempted over the years, mainly because I'm not sure how you enforce it, and also because the referees have enough to worry about without trying to identify what system a team is playing.

I don't blame the Lightning for what took place Wednesday night, and focussing on Tampa Bay seems to overlook the fact that just about every team in the NHL plays some variation of the trap -- it's just that the Lightning's is different from all the others. Still, when the Flyers have the puck the onus is on them to advance it, play the game, and figure out a way to exit their own zone, navigate through the neutral zone and enter the offensive zone. They chose not to do that.

And let's not act like the Lightning and their system, no matter how committed they are to it, are impossible to score against. Last season they allowed 155 goals during 5-on-5 play (when they would have been playing their system). Only 12 teams in the NHL allowed more. So far this season they've allowed 33 goals during 5-on-5 play, which is the fourth most in the NHL (only Ottawa, Carolina and Philadelphia have allowed more).

You can score against them. The only way you're guaranteed to not score against them is if you make no effort.

Photo: Getty Images

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Since: Sep 28, 2010
Posted on: November 11, 2011 5:25 pm

It's a trap: Tampa Bay's system under attack

Tampa did not dissapoint their fans on Wednesday, in fact it is quite the opposite. Wednesday's game against the flyers was my favorite Bolts game this season. Can Flyer's fans say the same? The Lightning have no responsibility to make the game exciting for Flyers fans. Obviously "exciting" is all that Flyers fans can hope for when you watch a team that hasn't won the Cup in four decades.

Since: Feb 10, 2009
Posted on: November 11, 2011 5:19 pm

It's a trap: Tampa Bay's system under attack

Boucher will be this generations Jacque Lemaire. that was ridiculous the other night, dont know what was worse Tampas style of D or Phillys reluctance to attack it

Since: Feb 3, 2009
Posted on: November 11, 2011 4:52 pm

It's a trap: Tampa Bay's system under attack

I don't think anyone has a problem when tampa played the actual 1-3-1, meaning 3 guys in the neutral zone, and one forechecker.

the problem arises when tampa plays a "1-4", which is exactly what they were doing.  putting 4 defenders like that in the neutal zone, with no forecheck, leaves the offense with zero options, except to dump the puck into the tampa zone, which takes away their ability to attack.

is it a sound defensive strategy.  ABSOLUTELY


does it lead to boring a$$ hockey, which will drive a lot of fans away from a game that is popular because of it's speed and excitement? again, ABSOLUTELY

Since: Nov 18, 2006
Posted on: November 11, 2011 4:07 pm

It's a trap: Tampa Bay's system under attack

Plus, I almost forgot Tampa had a hockey team.  Fan support must be as good as the Bucs.  Let's see, in about 5 year the Bucs will be in LA and the Lightening will be in Quebec?  Sound about right?

Buffalo attendance per game: 17,973
Tampa Bay attendance per game: 19,033

Yeah... no support whatsoever.

Since: Jul 22, 2010
Posted on: November 11, 2011 3:27 pm
This comment has been removed.

Post Deleted by Administrator

Since: Aug 6, 2007
Posted on: November 11, 2011 2:42 pm

It's a trap: Tampa Bay's system under attack

I thought it was about winning at this level.  Did the Lightning win?  Nuff said.

Since: Aug 4, 2011
Posted on: November 11, 2011 2:21 pm

It's a trap: Tampa Bay's system under attack

It was becoming apparent last season that many of the rule changes implemented after the lockout were no longer effective in ensuring a faster paced and more exciting game.  The NHL in many ways has only itself to blame.  There was nothing wrong with the rules that existed prior to the lockout, but the officials refused to enforce them or, perhaps more likely, instructed its officials to look the other way so that more games would be competitive.  As good as some of the pre-lockout Devils and Wings teams may have been, they also thrived on gum it up styles, the Devils with their trap and the Wings with their left wing lock.  We again are seeing horrible officiating with a lot of clutch and grab being permitted while stepping into a player who has just dumped the puck (and is the last to have touched the puck) is called for interference.  It would be nice to see the league switch to an international ice surface to open up play ... it might cost some seats in places that always sell out like Chicago and Detroit, but there are too many places like Dallas where, regardless of the team's record, there are nearly as many empty seats and filled seats and too many games are like the Bolts-Flyers game.  And, while I hate artificial rules, perhaps icing should not be enforced if a team has nobody forechecking.  

Since: Aug 16, 2006
Posted on: November 11, 2011 1:50 pm

It's a trap: Tampa Bay's system under attack

Objection #1.  Win game by following rules of game.  End of story.  Tampa Bay succeeded.  Guess what have the right to not watch their games if you don't like their style of play.  You have a right as a team to not advance the puck and try to score (if you choose and you are not committing penalties).  Hey Philly, how did that work for you?  You got zero pts in a game against a fellow Eastern Conference team.   Bottom line is that the Tampa coach has a responsibility to win games (not caring what the general public or media thinks about it).  Hey, I love hockey because of the fast pace, the aggressivness and the constant movement.  But I also enjoy a good old fashion 1-0 pitcher's duel.  Every time an NBA or NFL team comes up with a new and improved defensive scheme, it is up to the other teams to come up with an offensive scheme to overcome this new gimmick Defense.  

Since: Aug 16, 2006
Posted on: November 11, 2011 1:49 pm

It's a trap: Tampa Bay's system under attack

The primary objective in hockey is to score more goals than the opposition.  Secondary to this is to keep the puck away from the opposition.  In my mind the Flyers did nothing wrong.

So, in your mind the secondary objective is more important than the primary objective?

the Lightning are the ones who needed to change up their system in order to get the puck back.  A team with as much scoring talent up front as Tampa owe their paying fans a big apology for that gong show.

I would have to disagree with both of these points.  Tampa won so evidently they aren't the ones that needed to change strategies.  Also, with TB winning, there is no need to apologize to anyone.

If anything, the Flyers should apologize to their fanbase for losing a game they could of/should of won had they only tried to score instead of playing keep away.

Since: Jul 9, 2009
Posted on: November 11, 2011 1:13 pm

It's a trap: Tampa Bay's system under attack

The team *with* the puck has to move it forward and, if I recall right that is even stated in the rules.  . . . Philly should have been penalized for delay of game at least twice because of this.
Apparently not correct, sabreone.  How do I know that?  Here's how:

I was listening to the radio broadcast of the game as it occurred.  When the slowdown happened once or twice, the officials initially stopped play and ordered faceoffs.  After this happened a couple of times (and perhaps after talking with one or both of the coaches), the ref called up the league office in Toronto for a clarification.  Now, what exactly was said in that phone call we don't know, but we do know that from that point on in the game, when the slowdown would occur the officials no longer tried to stop it--let alone do anything more drastic, like calling a penalty.

The conclusion is obvious: the league must have told the refs that that the Flyers were not violating any rules as long as they didn't hold the puck in one place.  And if they weren't violating the rules, they obviously couldn't be penalized, as you mistakenly thought they should.

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