Interesting note from Adam Jahns of the Sun-Times about Chicago’s’ lengthy film-and-chalkboard session prior to tonight’s game:
The focus was positioning at both ends of the rink.
There are plenty of things to address, whether it’s not having a third player high in the offensive zone, a third caught down low in the defensive zone or how their defensemen react when opponents pinch their blue line.
“We probably let it slide a little when we were scoring many goals and weren’t looking to prevent them at a regular rate,” Quenneville said. “Especially on the road, we want to play tight, and we want to be responsible. An awareness of our positioning is what we’re talking about.”
On Wednesday, it was accompanied by more chalkboard instruction as the Hawks worked in the neutral zone with a variation of the 1-2-2 trap for their game against the San Jose Sharks on Friday.
Chicago ranks 26th in goals-allowed per game (2.96) and, during its current six-game winless streak, has lost games by scores of 5-2 (twice) and 8-4. As such, it’s not a huge surprise they’d dabble in trapping — it is a fairly effective way to curtail opponent’s scoring chances — but still a shock given the ‘Hawks are one of the NHL’s most offensively-gifted teams.
Marian Hossa and Jonathan Toews are top-15 scorers in the league while Patrick Sharp and Patrick Kane are close to a point-a-game clip and hey, let’s be honest — part of Chicago’s identity is that they’re a fun, free-wheeling team.
But the ‘Hawks know that for all their offense, they’re not going anywhere unless they play better defense.
“We did a little more instructional stuff, working to get out of this,” Sharp said. “You want to make it tough for the other team to skate 200 feet with the puck.”
By now you already know about how the Flyers opted to counterattack the Lightning’s 1-3-1 defensive alignment. By not attacking it all and stalling with the puck in their own end, the Flyers managed to create a fevered debate about who is right and wrong in this whole situation and the truth is everyone should be shouldering the blame.
Guy Boucher’s strategy is nothing new by him. He’s used the 1-3-1 since he’s coached in juniors and it frustrated the hell out of teams there to the point they’d do the same thing the Flyers did. Obviously, the critics of his defensive scheme are many. Chris Pronger wondered aloud (very loud) after the game why anyone would pay to see something that wasn’t hockey.
Even Boucher doesn’t have a supporter in legendary coach Scotty Bowman. Bowman was in attendance for last night’s display of civil disobedience and tactical play and felt that the league has to do something about Boucher’s scheme capping off his thoughts saying, “This used to be the fastest game on ice.” That’s big talk coming from the coach who used the “left wing lock” to shut teams down.
Boucher’s scheme runs sour because his 1-3-1 setup doesn’t have the lead forechecker do any pressuring of the puck carrier at all. Instead they sit in the neutral zone and wait, clogging things up and making it difficult to break through. By not challenging the play, that takes the spirit out of the game. Laying in wait is a perfectly legal strategy, but it’s a brutally boring one for what’s meant to be an exciting game.
The Flyers aren’t blameless here though. Peter Laviolette is the first coach to seemingly take a stand on things and while he says his own attack scheme is based on having a forechecker pressure the play, that’s a coy explanation for actively causing a disturbance. By not bearing down and forcing Tampa to action, the Flyers take even more blame in this by making a game-slowing defense into a game-stopping situation. Famed coach Roger Neilson would’ve been proud of Laviolette’s curious stand.
Because of that, the threat of killing the pace of the game will make the NHL Board of Governors have to discuss things at the GM meetings next month. The last thing the league wants is a return of the “dead puck” era and see their product ground down into a mind-numbing bore fest.
Every team traps in their own different ways so blaming that in general is wrong. Regardless of who you support in this debate, the NHL will be forced to craft an answer for how to handle this.
You had to think that with Columbus’ 2-11-1 start and after getting blown out by Philadelphia 9-2 on Saturday night that changes were coming. Instead of firing the GM or the coach, Scott Arniel is going to do something even more drastic behind the bench. Instead of the Jackets bringing back one old friend in Ken Hitchcock, they’ll bring back another one in the form of good old defensive minded hockey.
They’re bringing back the trap.
Shawn Mitchell of Puck Rakers gets the word from Arniel that rather than be a free skating, run-and-gun team the Jackets are going to dial things back a lot.
“It isn’t a gigantic, major overhaul,” Arniel said. “But we have gone back and put a lot of emphasis on the guys without the puck, on clogging the center of the ice.”
Clogging the center of the ice? This sounds a little bit like the 90s and 2000s with the trap, dead-puck era and for fans that are already getting tortured by bad hockey, now they’ll get bad hockey and the trap.
Arniel tips his hand in explaining why he’s making the change.
“Prior to (now) we probably were playing a high-risk game,” Arniel said. “Ultimately it’s the way I’ve coached and played. It’s the most exciting hockey. Players love to play that style. Coaches love to coach that style. But it’s also one that can give you fits when you don’t have good goaltending or you don’t have the defense that can sustain that.”
That’s right Jackets fans, you want someone to blame for having to watching boring hockey you can blame Steve Mason. In truth, this is a move that should help out Mason in a big way. After all, Mason had his best success when Hitchcock and his defense-first philosophy ran the show there.
If it doesn’t help Mason, however, the only answer left might be a full-on housecleaning.