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Hockey world reacts to Flyers, Lightning tactics

Thursday, 11.10.2011 / 4:20 PM / NHL Insider

By Corey Masisak - NHL.com Staff Writer

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Hockey world reacts to Flyers, Lightning tactics
There was no shortage of opinions on the Lightning's 1-3-1 defense Wednesday, and how the Flyers chose to play -- or not play -- against it
Tampa Bay Lightning coach Guy Boucher defended his team's tactics Thursday, while reaction to the Lightning's 2-1 victory Wednesday against the Philadelphia Flyers poured in from around the NHL.

The Lightning primarily have deployed a 1-3-1 defensive system since Boucher was named coach before last season. Philadelphia decided the best way to beat it, or at least to force Tampa Bay out of the compact, neutral-zone clogging alignment, was similar to stalling in basketball -- a Flyers defenseman held onto the puck in his own end instead of trying to advance it, hoping the Lightning players would grow frustrated and start chasing the puck.

Flyers players lashed out at the Lightning's unwillingness to pursue the puck, and many in the hockey community have expressed opinions about the contest.

"That is the way they play there all the time, whether it's us or anybody," said Flyers captain Chris Pronger. "If they get down, they go into a two-man forecheck. We were just waiting for them to come in. Force them out of their forecheck or whatever that was. They weren't forechecking. Their stance, I guess."

Lightning coach Guy Boucher said none of the criticism bothered him.

"I don't care what people say. I coach our team and I'm paid to win games and our rink is full. (General Manager) Steve Yzerman is happy," he said after Thursday's practice. "The comments don't bother me and I really don't know the extent of it. We play the same way we played last year and we're going to continue playing that way. In every game, every team has a strategy. We have a strategy against the other team and during the game we adjust and re-adjust and other teams have to do the same against us. It's an ongoing process, whether it's on the ice or off the ice. The only thing that matters is what happens on the ice. We've got our strengths and weaknesses. We play to our strengths."


When the game began, the Flyers held the puck in their end of the ice for almost a minute before an official blew his whistle.

The Flyers continued to hold the puck in their end when possible, but were told the puck had to keep moving -- one player couldn't stand still and possess it like Chris Pronger did at the start. They were whistled one more time for delaying the game, and both instances resulted in a faceoff in the Philadelphia zone.

"We were trying to figure a way around it," said Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said. "It's part of the game. Everybody coaches differently and you have to make adjustments."

"I think Philly did the right thing," Detroit's Henrik Zetterberg said. "I haven't actually seen it, but I think it's hilarious if they're just standing there waiting for them to come. It must be tough for the referee to know what to do. I don't know … I actually thought it was a good way for showing how boring it could be if the other team doesn't do anything if they have the puck. That's the way we played in Sweden for, I think, 10 years. We played a 1-3-1 really strict and the game became really, really boring. I think with the skill we have in this League, you shouldn't be able to play that way."

Other players, including Phoenix's Paul Bissonnette and Toronto's Joffrey Lupul, expressed their displeasure on Twitter during the game.

This was not the first time a team has tried this type of thing against the Lightning, but it was the most pronounced. The Washington Capitals had their defensemen pass the puck back and forth in the Washington end for long stretches in a game in early February, which ended up being a 5-2 Washington victory.

"I think Philly did the right thing. I haven't actually seen it, but I think it's hilarious if they're just standing there waiting for them to come. It must be tough for the referee to know what to do. I don't know … I actually thought it was a good way for showing how boring it could be if the other team doesn't do anything if they have the puck. That's the way we played in Sweden for, I think, 10 years. We played a 1-3-1 really strict and the game became really, really boring. I think with the skill we have in this League, you shouldn't be able to play that way." -- Detroit Red Wings forward, Henrik Zetterberg

Other NHL coaches offered their thoughts, and some were interested in how the League might react to the situation.

"Obviously I don't think anybody liked what happened (Wednesday)," said Boston coach Claude Julien. "We're all in the same boat. But again, instead of blaming, I think we've got to find solutions and the blame shouldn't be on one area, whether it's coaches, whether it's this or that. I think there's a lot of reasons why those things happen and I think we all have to look at it as a whole. Because is the red line taken out created that? Maybe not. What can we do about it?

"As far as I'm concerned, every sport has an offensive side to it and a defensive side of it and teams have their tactics as far as attacking and they have their tactics as far as defending. So we're all gauged on the wins and losses, so who do you blame in these situations? I don't think there's any one person to blame. I think we just have to have a look at it and to me, it certainly wasn't fun to watch, but do you blame the team that had the puck or do you blame the team that was defending? So I don't have an answer or a comment on that. Certainly, I want to take care of our team and at the end of the night, doesn't matter which city you're in, they're all going to support a winner, so you're trying to do the best you can to win hockey games."

Added Detroit coach Mike Babcock: "What the League's got to decide … if you look at the League every night, it's one guy and then four guys standing around the far blue. That's because everyone stretches out and that stretch pass and you tip it and you race … so all your offense is off the forecheck. That's what taking the red line (out) has done and making the end zones bigger. So, to me, if you want rush hockey and you want nice-looking hockey, you put the red line back in."

While some coaches might be interested in changes to prevent another situation like Wednesday, they also didn't begrudge Boucher for deploying such tactics.

"It's more pronounced than other teams, but there's probably 15 teams that play 1-3-1," Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff told John Vogl of the Buffalo News. "We play it on occasion. We like a couple different looks, though. That's his right to play whatever system he wants."

Ruff also added, "Somewhere in there, there's an obligation to go get the puck if the other team has it."

"In 1994 (Olympics) we got to the gold-medal game in Lillehammer by playing the 1-3-1," Edmonton coach Tom Renney said. "And at the end of the day it's about results. The way we played, it was a lot different than the way it's played by Tampa. Our 1-3-1 pressed up, significantly, and didn't sit back and wait. And there is a difference to that. The bottom line is that Guy is asked to coach and win hockey games. And he's doing that. Peter (Laviolette) has been asked to do the same thing, and he's doing that. So until we're told otherwise, you do what you have to do to win hockey games."

Added Babcock: "Tampa was rewarded with a 2-1 win, so why would you forecheck when you can wait? They forecheck when they get the opportunity. They wait for transition and they go like crazy. And it's been very successful for them. Their coach is a real good coach and they have good players and they play a good system that works for them."

For Boucher, as long the team continues to be successful and the players are on board, he sees no reason to change.

"When we attack, we attack. When we defend, we defend -- pack mentality," Boucher said. "So I don't want to answer to other people; we're ourselves and that's who we are and that's how I coach. I'm paid to win.

"I've learned over the years that at times you're extremely high or extremely low, but the reality is that the sun comes up; it'll come up again tomorrow, and I'll still have the same job to do, and that's to win games. I can't get my focus away from that. Our players have bought in -- they bought in last year and they are buying in this year. What we do hasn't changed and it won't."
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