In case you missed the rather strange happenings in last night’s game between the Philadelphia Flyers and the Tampa Bay Lightning here is the jist of it:
Early in the opening period, Tampa head coach Guy Boucher and his players employed a 1-3-1 neutral zone trap which is a defensive strategy that puts zero pressure on the puck until it is moved to center ice. The Flyers, seeing what was being presented to them, refused to advance the puck forward and just waited in their own zone hoping that eventually the Lightning would come out of their shell.
This happened several times in the first period, one in which the referee was forced to blow the play down and give a faceoff in the Flyers zone, and another in which the cat and mouse game lasted for about 50 seconds.
With the shots 21-14 in favour of the Lightning in their 2-1 overtime victory, it was the type of defensive-minded game that no one wants to see. Flyers captain Chris Pronger described the situation as being “embarrassing” and pointed to Tampa’s defensive tactics as something that is not hockey in his mind.
The trap is something that has been around for years and it has often been pin-pointed as one of the main reasons why scoring in the NHL has declined through the decades. Although it is very rare to see a team be so stubborn against it like the Flyers were last night, it does raise the question as to whether the NHL should look into banning the zone defense.
The NBA outlawed teams from playing a zone defense years ago, and although it would be a little more complex to do in hockey, it would be something the NHL would have to look into if instances like this continue to occur.
The 1-3-1 is unfortunately a very effective defensive strategy that is tough for the opposing team to break down, but it is usually implemented by a team looking to protect a lead late in the third period. I say “usually” because as you saw last night, the Lightning did it in the early stages of the first period in a scoreless game. This time their opponents refused to play into their hands but it certainly will not deter them from continuing to play this way.
National Hockey League teams will do whatever they feel gives them a greater chance to win games and unless more teams like the Flyers attempt to take a stand against it, there will be no stopping the Guy Boucher’s of the world from playing this defensive and boring style of hockey.