Call it anything you want Guy Boucher. A defensive emphasis, zone play, or a puck distributing system. Nobody is fooled. Tampa Bay employs a 1-3-1 trap designed to clog the neutral zone and force red line dump-ins.
The advantages to playing a 1-3-1 instead of a tighter zone with heavier forechecking?
One reason is to allow the Tampa defense to move the puck with little pressure thanks to the stuffy three-man neutral zone wall. The last player in the trap hangs deep in the defensive zone and retrieves the puck before forecheckers even enter the zone. The second reason is to eliminate two-line-passes that lead to odd man rushes. Receiving a pass behind the wall, on-sides proves extremely difficult.
So how do you beat the trap? Here is a hint. Coaches employ a trap because they have a weak defensive core or have no offense. Which one sounds like Tampa?The only first-round matchup in the NHL that features two 100 point teams breaks down to one simple key for the Penguins: beat the trap; beat the Bolts. Here are the five keys to a Penguins victory.
1.) This may be the most obvious point, but it is also the most important point. Pittsburgh must take an early lead. In a 5-1 win on November 12, the Pens scored the first two goals of the game. The Penguins 8-1 win nearly two months later saw Pittsburgh score the first seven goals of the game–including markers by Evgeni Malkin and Chris Conner in the first 2:30 of the match. Cementing this point, is the fact that Tampa Bay tallied the opening goal in both of the Lightning’s victories over Pittsburgh this season.
All bets are off if the Lightning surge to an early lead. Dwayne Roloson is a strong enough goalie seal a Tampa Bay victory when playing behind a trap.
2.) As mentioned above, trapping is utilized to relieve pressure from suspect defensive players–and the Lightning have plenty of those. Second overall pick Victor Hedman and Mattias Ohlund are both prone to sloppy turnovers. Marc-Andre Bergeron is not much better, as poor puck-control kept him in Jacques Martin dog house for much of last season. Taking advantage of these players will prove fruitful. With a system designed to create time for defensemen, the Penguins must pressure the Lightning defense all over the ice–not just on the forecheck.
3.) Pittsburgh does not have to worry about the trap if they do not face it. For this to happen, the Penguins have to turn defense into offense. Quick outlets from the defensive zone will provide Penguins forwards with odd-man-rushes and easy entry into the offense zone. If the Pittsburgh defensemen can convert failed Lightning offensive zone opportunities into up-ice passes, Tampa Bay’s trap will not have time to set up the neutral zone wall. Kris Letang, Paul Martin, and Ben Lovejoy will be relied upon heavily for this transition game.
4.) Neutral zone faceoff wins also allow the Penguins to bypass the trap. Perhaps this is where Sidney Crosby is most missed. Mark Letestu and Jordan Staal need to win these draws to create scoring opportunities. In this series, the neutral zone is where the battle will be won. Do not be surprised to see an unusual amount of Pittsburgh off-side calls on Penguins dump-ins. Cheating into the offensive zone just before the puck is dumped will place the faceoff directly outside the Lightning zone and restrict the Bolts defensemen from moving the puck free of pressure.
It is not intentional off-sides–just like Tampa Bay does not play a trap. Right Guy?
5.) Lastly, special teams will decide this series. Pens fans are well aware by now that Pittsburgh’s powerplay needs help. Ranking 25th in the league, the Penguins are clicking at just under 16%. Tampa Bay’s man-advantage features three of the best powerplay players in the league–Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis, and Vincent Lecavalier. The Lightning were also afforded 25 more powerplay opportunities than the Penguins this year. Powerplay percentage does not always tell the story, as amount of opportunities and timely goals also play important roles. Fortunately for Pittsburgh, the Penguins finished with the top penalty kill unit in the NHL. Not so fortunate for Pittsburgh is that Tampa Bay’s penalty kill finished only seven spots behind.
Alex Kovalev must be the difference maker in the special teams department for the Penguins, and if history is any indicator, he will bring his playoff lunch pale to work tonight. There is no better way to gain offensive zone access than by earning a powerplay. Pittsburgh needs a strong special teams presence to win this series.
The Penguins can count on two definites in this series: Malkin will not play, and Marc-Andre Fleury will be good–Conn Smythe good. While it is a stretch to say Geno will be missed more than Crosby, #71 is a master at maneuvering through the neutral zone. He is a one-man trap killer. Certainly, his services will be missed. With Jack Adams candidate Dan Bylsma behind the bench though, the Penguins are primed for a fourth consecutive second-round appearance.