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The 1-3-1 Neutral Zone Trap Explained

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Even the most casual hockey observer has probably heard of the neutral zone trap. Most recently, the Tampa Bay Lightning’s brand of the neutral zone trap, the 1-3-1, gained some notoriety in a game against the Philadelphia Flyers. Tampa wasn’t going to attack deep into the Flyer’s zone, and the Flyers weren’t going to attack the big, bad, scary neutral zone trap. The result was about 30 seconds of nothing and then a referee stopping play. (I tend to think the onus is on the offense to do something here, but that’s not the subject of this post.)

So what exactly is the neutral zone trap? I have probably an average hockey IQ, and thanks to many versions of hockey video games over the years, I understand the basics of most of the strategies. But I’d never heard of the 1-3-1 and never had a full understanding of the neutral zone trap. So I set out on a quest of knowledge and have returned here with the results.

First off, we have to describe what the more generic term “neutral zone trap” is. Basically, it’s a defensive alignment that tries to take away passing lanes in the neutral zone and cause a turnover. The trap can have different alignments like the 1-2-2 or the 1-3-1 (more on those numbers in a moment). A trap is more of a passive defense with little risk, focused primarily on defense.

The numbers in a hockey strategy refer to the position of the players. See the diagram below:

diagram 300x186 The 1 3 1 Neutral Zone Trap Explainedbuffalosabresnation.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/diagram.jpg 400w" sizes="(max-width: 300px) 100vw, 300px" />

The Tampa Bay Lightning's version of the neutral zone trap is known as the Tampa T, because, well, that's what it looks like from above in the diagram.

The forward on the right is the first “1”. His goal is to forecheck and pressure opponents to either side of the rink, towards the boards.

If this is accomplished, the “3” gravitate to that side (i.e. puck side attack in NHL12). They further block off passing lanes and prevent the puck carrier from skating undeterred into his offensive zone. Ideally they seek to force a turnover or a dump-in. Remember that the offense needs to get to the center red line before they can dump the puck in, otherwise it’s icing. This wall of 3 moves as one and attacks the offense at or before the red line.

This leaves the last “1”, or the back defenseman as a sort of sweeper, picking up pucks or chasing down a dump-in.

Done properly, the 1-3-1 trap-style defense can smother an offense and lead to some boring-ass hockey. There are ways to beat it, however.

The problem that the 1-3-1 causes is partially because it slows down play in the neutral zone. Opponents can get stuck waiting to not go offside at the blue line; their momentum can get totally stopped. When this happens and the offense is forced to dump the puck in, it’s hard for the forwards to get back up to speed and chase down the puck. This is what happens when the 1-3-1 is working.

But here’s the flipside of the 1-3-1: with only 1 defenseman back, if you can beat him you can set up a scoring chance. So… to beat the 1-3-1, a defenseman needs to get close to the red line. He can dump it in with a forward redirecting it so the play doesn’t get called for icing. Meanwhile, the other 2 forwards should be hitting the blue line with speed… right past the 1 defenseman who has to execute a back-to-front transition and pick up speed again and who is outnumbered.

That’s it in a nutshell. I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out (and give link love to) a couple of great sites where I got some of this information. Check these out for more info:

 The 411 on the 1-3-1

Idiot’s Guide To Hockey Systems (Forechecking) 

There will be arguments for and against the 1-3-1 and apparently it will be discussed at the NHL’s GM meetings.  Should the NHL legislate against it? If so, how do they do anything about it? Didn’t the post-lockout rules of 2005-2006 seek to address this (i.e. getting rid of the two-line pass)?  If I missed anything, please correct me or add to what I said in the comments.

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So No Richards? That’s OK.

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Now that the Brad Richards frenzy is over, we can calmly and cooly look back at it. (I hope?)

The Sabres didn’t want to pay (or perhaps overpay depending on your opinion) the money it would’ve taken to sign Richards. They knew roughly what he would command in the market and had their backup plans.

So no Richards.

 So No Richards? Thats OK.

Do we really want Richards anyway? He already won a Cup so how hungry can he be for another? And he besmirched the Cup with a crustacean. Everyone knows the only food that should go in there is chicken wings.

A simple text and an innocuous one, it turned out. For those unfamiliar with the line, one of the princesses of the Pegula dynasty, Jessie Pegula, tweeted the words “so no richards”. The tweet was quickly deleted and @jlpegula said it was a butt tweet. Ok, sure. No one was buying it, but she did her best to cover for what could potentially have interfered with signing the biggest name free agent in this year’s market.

I for one thought it was cute and wouldn’t have really changed anything. She had inside information yet the deal wasn’t going through at that point.

But was the deal for Richards really ever going to go through at all? After the smoke cleared, another report came out that Pegula and Regier didn’t go up to Mississauga to visit Richards and his agent after all.

“We had plans to go up to Mississauga to meet with him,” Regier said. “As the day progressed and even with the number of clubs that were in line to speak with Newport Sports, we really got into a time pressure situation where we had to make a decision. We felt very strongly about Ville, and we felt that it was important to make sure we didn’t allow a quality player like him to slip by us.

It doesn’t sound like the Sabres really wanted Richards that badly after all. Actually sounds like they wanted Ville Leino more and they went for it.

 So No Richards? Thats OK.

Richards also risked taking the Cup for a ride on a jet ski. Well, actually that's pretty cool. After all, it had a life jacket on.

There are a couple things I take away from this.

One is that Richards is 31 and has concussion history. Richards had success in Tampa Bay, even winning a cup but that was with a stacked team. In the last 4 years with the Dallas Stars, his team has made the playoffs only one time, although they did make it to the 3rd round that year. Richards is called a “point a game” guy, but look at his plus-minus (click to embiggen):

Screen shot 300x216 So No Richards? Thats OK.buffalosabresnation.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/Screen-shot.jpg 726w" sizes="(max-width: 300px) 100vw, 300px" />

Only during one year, Tampa Bay’s Cup victory, did Richards post better than a +3. Darcy’s mamma didn’t raise no dummy. He knew the Sabres could spend their money much more effectively.

The other takeaway is this: the Sabres aren’t going to be completely honest with the public. Even in this amazing new Pegula era, we can’t expect complete transparency and honesty. They have to play games with other teams. Disinformation, confusion, misdirection… it’s the art of war and every other team is the Sabres enemy. If we can use tactics to get other teams to pay more for free agents, we’ll do it.

So the Sabres probably weren’t really even in the Richards race to begin with. Even if they were, Richards could join the growing line of expensive Rangers free agents that just haven’t panned out. He may even look a bit like (dare I say his name) Timmeh.

So no Richards?

Nope, and that’s just fine.

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Sabres Free Agency Madness and Wishlists

[Note this was written before the Sabres signed the rights to Ehrhoff. That doesn’t change a whole lot, but it might affect the ability to afford Brad Richards and make it more likely that the Sabres have to trade for a center or two. Read on…]

So, we’ve landed our dream top defenseman, the grittiest of the gritty. We love Robyn Regehr and can’t wait to see him smash some opposing forwards into the boards.

regehr nasty 300x230 Sabres Free Agency Madness and Wishlistsbuffalosabresnation.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/regehr-nasty.jpeg 650w" sizes="(max-width: 300px) 100vw, 300px" />

He doesn't need to eat food for he feeds on the fear of his opponents. Until the season begins he may have to learn to adapt his digestive system to accept chicken wings and bleu cheese.

Now Sabres fans thoughts turn towards Christmas Day, a.k.a. July 1st, otherwise known as Brad Richards Lottery Day. If you’re tuning in late, live under a rock, or have just been too busy to keep up, Friday, July 1st is the date that unrestricted free agents can sign with other teams.

And who might the Sabres go after? The aforementioned Brad Richard is one possibility, and despite the high demand for a player of his caliber, there are many knowledgeable people who think the Sabres have both the gumption and cap space to go after him.

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Posted in: Free Agency, NHL, Sabres

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NHL Namesake Tournament (Round 1, Pt. 2)

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We’ll keep as this short and sweet as possible. (See here for the full explanation of this tournament.)

Flyers vs. Senators

What the hell is a Flyer? Googling doesn’t help much, but as near as I can figure, it’s a guy who flys. Yeah. Like this guy?

G30 Reveal Flyer rev 300x245 NHL Namesake Tournament (Round 1, Pt. 2)

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Posted in: NHL

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NHL Namesake Tournament (Round 1)

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This is the Hypothetical NHL Namesake Tournament, where the best team representative wins. See here for our intro post about it, but it comes down to the real life versions of the NHL team names playing each other.  In the toilet bowl we had the Panthers tearing apart the Oilers – so the Panthers advanced to the bottom seed of the Eastern conference.

To kick off round 1 we have Capitals vs. Panthers and Canucks vs. Avalanche

Not to influence your voting, but we have to talk about these matchups just a little bit or we wouldn’t be doing our job.

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Posted in: NHL

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