Saturday, November 12, 2011
A Proposed Solution to Defense in the NHL
I wanted to touch on the big buzz-story around the NHL that began this past Wednesday, the night of November 9th. In a game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Philadelphia Flyers refused to even attempt to break out of their zone on multiple occasions because the Lightning were playing defense in what is known as a 1-3-1 formation, in which one defender pressures the puck-carrier, three defenders stand at the red line to break up long passes, and one defender stays deep in their own zone in order to be the first to the puck in the event that the offensive team dumps the puck into the zone. The Flyers, when presented with this defense, simply stayed in their own defensive zone and skated around with the puck for whole stretches of the game. I thought it was a funny little story, a quirky side-show that happened in Florida when Flyers Coach Peter Laviolette realized that he had no idea how to beat a "neutral-zone trap" defense. "No big deal," I thought, watching the highlights. "Chris Pronger is a whiny bitch whose team refused to play, thus exposing and even highlighting the limits of Peter Laviolette's competence. And they lost the game and looked like dipshits in the process, so justice is served!" What produced a stronger reaction from me and drives me to address the subject here, is that the media (and according to Pierre LaBrun, the General Managers) are widely blaming the Tampa Bay Lightning for the lull in play! That absolutely dumbfounds me.
The whining goes like this: "Tampa Bay's defensive formation makes it hard for an opponent to get through the neutral zone and into Tampa Bay's defensive zone, which makes it extremely difficult to score. Fans like scoring. Therefore, the Tampa Bay Lightning are taking all excitement out of the game and wasting the fans' time, even while winning games."
I'm paraphrasing, but that genuinely is the sentiment. And it's absolutely bat-shit retarded. I just do not see any way for a person to blame the Lightning for the Flyers' mopery without presenting an argument that boils down, in its simplest form, to the following: Fans like offense, so it should be illegal to limit an opponent's scoring chances.
There is pressure to make the 1-3-1 defense illegal and the General Managers have already said there will be talks about it at their next meeting, in Toronto. They want a way to keep the game exciting and to spare coaches, like Laviolette, the frustration of having to figure out how to beat a given team on any given night. But I've figured out the answer! Are you ready for this? Eliminate the boring, defensive part and skip right to the shoot-out! That way, each team will be given the same opportunities, fans see a lot of scoring chances, and we always have a winner! You're welcome, NHL! I just saved you of a lot of relaxing brainstorming.
Until that happens, I have this to say: This so-called "message" sent by Peter Laviolette (what that message was and to whom it was directed, nobody has said) might mean something if he 1) had the balls to do it in front of his home crowd in Philadelphia (yeah, right) and 2) actually knew how to beat the trap, only refused to do it because it's so boring. But Laviolette clearly has no idea how to beat the Tampa Bay defense, so his "protest" means nothing except that the Flyers should probably look for a new coach. The Flyers' all-time record against against Guy Boucher's Tampa Bay Lightning is (don't laugh) 1-3-1.