Trapped on the Ice

The league is tired of the Tampa Bay Lightning and coach Guy Boucher's defensive-minded style of play and are showing it.

Ed Millerby Ed Miller

It seemed the trap was all but dead in the NHL but no, Tampa Bay Lightning coach Guy Boucher has the defensive-minded style alive and well.  The Bolts play a 1-3-1 trap – a system that keeps the team on the defensive side of the ice, while refusing to attack on the forecheck – a style that has the New Jersey Devils laughing at its simplicity.  The Devils made the trap famous well over a decade ago, which had teams such as the Detroit Red Wings playing copy cat.

So what is the big deal about the trap?  The big deal is that the trap is about as entertaining as a Dolph Lundgren straight to DVD movie!  It slows down the game and significantly cuts down the scoring, a reason why games often end with a 2-1 score. 

And that is exactly what happened last night.

The Philadelphia Flyers fell to the Lightning 2-1 in overtime but it wasn’t the final score that has Tampa facing scrutiny, but rather the way the Flyers handled the 1-3-1 trap.  Early in the first period, the Flyers had the puck in their own end and began to skate it up.  The Lightning got into position and did not forecheck or attempt to steal the puck away.  So what did the Flyers do? Philadelphia started a protest and just stood there with the puck.  It happened seven times in the first period, with referee Rob Martell blowing the play dead twice in favor of a defensive zone faceoff.

At one point while defenseman Chris Pronger was standing still with the puck on his stick, the Flyers’ bench was standing and yelling at the Lightning bench as a form of mockery.  There is no rule in the rulebook that prevents the Flyers from doing what they did, in fact many players around the league wish it would have happened sooner.

Guy Boucher wanted to stick with the tactic and wouldn’t allow the standstill to end, despite the fact that it could all have been avoided if his player on the blue line just attacked the puck.  On the other side of things, this tactic isn’t anything new for the Lightning – who used it all last season, which was Boucher’s first as Tampa’s head coach – but it probably went overlooked due to their unlikely playoff run.  As the home team, it is your job to get the opposition to feed into your style of play.

Now we are left to wonder if the league will intervene and make up some asinine rule, so that this doesn’t happen more frequently, because let’s face it the Flyers might have been the first to refuse to play the Lightning’s game but they certainly won’t be the last.  And of course the NHL is a business in the market of making money and it has to think that fans don’t want to shell out money to see that style of play.  The big question for the Lightning might be, with the NHL’s most prolific scorer Steven Stamkos and guys like Vinny Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis, why does it appear as though they wants to be a defensive team, one that might just not have enough confidence in its offense?

Tampa might have won the battle, but the Flyers have won the war.  The Lightning won’t shy away from their scheme though and we’d say it has been working pretty well since they are tied for first in the Southeast Division.

Photo courtesy of The Associated Press.