Philadelphia Flyers:

The Tease Is Over This Year For Sabres Fans – Now What?

A tease.

That’s what this year has been.

We were teased with a competitive team after the offseason. Then teased again when the Sabres put together a short winning streak in late January/early February.

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No not that kind of a tease.

After the 7-2 absolute drubbing at the hands of the hated Flyers, we now know there is no hope for this team, this year. Well, of course many of us knew before this, but some of us held out the slightest glimmer of hope. I did.

We were teased last year with the 16-4-4 run to end the season and make the playoffs… only to be crushed at the hands of those very same hated Flyers. Now we know that the run to the playoffs was more flukey than being eliminated in the 1st round and the record the Sabres currently hold (24-27-6).

The combination of the bad record despite the high expectations, the mediocre play on the ice, the Lucic Incident and issues of softness, and the TV problems with Time Warner make this season a difficult pill to swallow for Sabres fans.

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Cleanup was indeed needed after the Sabres D soiled themselves in the 2nd period against the Flyers.

Lindy Ruff’s birthday is today but the celebration of his day has to be marred by where this franchise is at. This was supposed to be a mecca of hockey. A return to greatness. No, not even a return to greatness, but something better than we’d had in the past. Pegula labeled it “Hockey Heaven” – claimed a Stanley Cup was in our future. We got the Amerks back in the fold, got coaches entrenched that could coach Lindy’s “System”, the whole deal.

Pegula, Ted Black and the rest of the Sabres brass has consistently said we need to stay the course, to do nothing drastic.

At this point, even they have to see that something needs to be done. Questions come up about the coaching, about the general manager and about the heart of some of the players.

I don’t know what the answer is, but I don’t think we can just stay pat with the cards we’re holding. Perhaps it’s as simple as a trade or two now and build towards next year. Maybe it’s as drastic as firing Lindy Ruff.

After all, the team seems to embody his “nothing is wrong, we’ll get through this” mentality. Yes, it’s good for a coach to keep an even keel, but sometimes you need to light a fire under the guys.

Maybe Lindy does that, I don’t know as I’m not close enough to the team. All I know is that I see some guys on the ice who aren’t giving their all. I know that Lindy has had years of chances with different versions of this team and he hasn’t won a championship. There’s two sides to that coin: a) He’s done well over the years and gotten us deep in the playoffs b) It’s him holding us back from doing better than we could.

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THE ANSWER! Ok, not gonna happen, but it's fun to think about. More likely he'll go NASHville. These captions are horrible, but they're free, so quit yer whining.

In the end, I will have faith that “Pegula knows best”, that Ted Black and the rest of the staff are smart hockey guys and will get this thing figured out. But now we have to turn our attention to trades and a better draft pick and I don’t like that.

Go Sabres. /sigh

[Update: I was remiss not to say this: #DoSomethingDarcy]

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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:

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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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