The matchup between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Philadelphia Flyers last night was certainly interesting, to say the least, drawing the ire of fans and NHL players alike during a nationally televised game.
“This games on National TV…Way to sell it boys!” tweeted Toronto Maple Leafs forward Joffrey Lupul, whose sentiments echoed that of many fans.
The Lightning, notorious for their 1-3-1 trap, tried to use the defensive system against Philadelphia, who weren’t having it in front of their home crowd. Instead, the Flyers’ defensemen held the puck in the defensive zone and waited for an aggressive forecheck from the Lightning. Similarly, the Lightning waited in their defensive system for an offensive push from the Flyers. When both teams failed to act, the refs called the play dead and restarted the play. The same stalemate occurred. Finally, the NHL stepped in, only to tell the refs that they should not interfere with coaching strategies. What ensued was a chess match that was often clunky, disjointed and lackluster.
TSN Hockey Insider Bob McKenzie offered some insight into the strategies from both teams last night.
“The Lightning are playing something called the neutral zone trap, it’s only been around as long as the game itself,” explained McKenzie. “Now all of a sudden Peter Laviolette orchestrates something that says if they aren’t going to play aggressive we aren’t going to play aggressive and we’re in front of your home fans so let’s see how you like that. Let’s let this play out and see how it goes.”
Last night’s contest has sparked some debate regarding the 1-3-1 system and whether there should be “illegal” defensive systems in the NHL. Furthermore, this could become a very hot topic at a time when the NHL is consistently looking to increase scoring and scoring chances in games. Last night’s game didn’t exactly display that attitude.
“This is typically something that could really hurt hockey,” said former NHL head coach Marc Crawford. “Fans don’t want to watch that type of a system where nothing is happening. I think unfortunately this is absolutely something that the league will have to address.”
But should the Lightning be punished because their system defies the NHL’s goal of increasing scoring? The Lightning ultimately won the contest, and their run to the Eastern Conference Finals last season shows that the system works. Should they be punished for working an effective system, or should teams learn to adapt and beat that system?
When Philadelphia tried holding the puck again in the second period, the Lightning switched up their strategy a bit and essentially blitzed the flat-footed defender with two forecheckers. This resulted in a turnover at least once (that I saw on TV). The Lightning were able to adapt to Philadelphia’s strategy. Why wasn’t Philadelphia able to adapt to Tampa Bay’s?
“We’re sticking to the game plan,” Lightning coach Guy Boucher said in the St. Petersburg 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.”
This issue will likely receive tons of attention in the coming days and weeks, mostly because it took place during a nationally televised game where the NHL wants to put its best foot forward, and could become a hot-button issue at the General Managers meeting in December where they could look at possibly enforcing illegal defensive traps in the future.
Tampa Bay already seems to be fielding most of the criticism concerning their 1-3-1 system and how yesterday’s game played out, but some of that criticism may be misdirected. It’s not like Tampa Bay is unbeatable. Other teams have come through and employed successful strategies for dealing with Tampa Bay’s 1-3-1, so why couldn’t the Flyers? Better yet, why didn’t they even try?
What do you think? Should there be illegal defenses in the NHL or should teams learn to cope and adapt?
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