Tampa Bay Lightning:

Us Lucky Buffalo Sabres Fans

Are we lucky as fans or what? After one of the worst slides in Sabres history, they go on a 4-0-1 tear – against good teams even. I feel sorry for anyone who left the First Niagara Center early last night, as they missed a great show.

When it went to a shootout, I felt confident in Miller. He let in a few, but he was solid overall. When Gerbe’s shootout chance came, I knew he would sink it. Hell, the whole game I wasn’t worried about their play. The team is playing tough, confident hockey, with smarts to boot. They’re making crisp, quick passes and working hard in the corners. If they lost, they lost, but they were playing hard most of the way.

I don’t do much “real” analysis about the Sabres, as that’s not really my mindset (or forte). I’m more of a fan who just loves the game and makes bad jokes – but even I can see how much better this team is than just a few short weeks ago.

Perhaps part of it is the German bump, although the Sabres were playing well before the contingent of Mannheim Eagles fans came to Western New York. For more on that go here, it’s a feel good read.  And we could take some notes from their cheering playbook. They were rambunctious, perhaps annoyingly so to some, and even tried to get the wave going.

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European hockey fan enthusiasm is a little different than our brand, but we could certainly up the energy a little bit.

Or maybe it was Lindy Ruff. Perhaps his ego overshadowed the players and now that he’s injured they can finally play their best hockey. Now, I don’t believe this, but I’m sure there are detractors out there saying that. But the Sabres started this run well before Lindy fell and busted up some ribs.

Whatever the case, the Sabres are playing tough and are now eight points back in the East. I don’t think I need to say “buckle up”, we’re all pretty aware that this will go down to the wire, much like last year. But you couldn’t write a better script: a billionaire owner takes over the team, spends gazillions picking up all-star talent. The team flounders and all hope seems lost. Then, in Act 3 they get it together and miraculously make a huge comeback.

The only question is how does the story end – do they win it all, or is it just a feel-good drama where the team takes 2nd place but that was further than they ever should have expected to get to?

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Maybe James Patrick is using his time at the helm to teach the Sabres the Flying V.

Whatever the case may be, it’ll be damn exciting to be a part of. The Sabres are eight points back now with the Tampa Bay Lightning coming into our barn. We’ve got a lot of good hockey to watch ahead of us the rest of the year.

Go Sabres.

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The 1-3-1 Neutral Zone Trap Explained


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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Lightning Shock Sabres 3-0; Intro Steals Show


Yeah, the Sabres were shutout last night, 3-0, in what can be best described as a vintage 90’s clutch and grab performance. Usually, the refs wait until at least 10 games into the season before pocketing their whistles, but whatever: did you see that intro?

A new pipe organ. Giant Tesla coils suspended from the rafters. Are the Lightning trying to channel the Hockey Gods into their arena?


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"Ooo, Tesla coils!"

It took over nine minutes for Tampa’s new intro to put every Led Zeppelin laser show to permanent shame. It was glorious… or was it overdone? You decide:

Well, we have Sabretooth rapelling from the rafters. That, and Terry Pegula, is enough intro for us. Unless Terry wants to pony up for a new pipe organ. And giant pyrotechnic dueling sabres. Nah. That really is too much.

But can we at least get a pipe organ?

Go Sabres.

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Gaustad Unleashes his Thundersticks for the Sabres

Thundersticks, Thundersticks, Thundersticks – ho!

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Tell me this guy doesn't look a little like Gaustad.

If you don’t get the “Thundercats” reference, I apologize, but Gaustad really snarfed Matt Bradley last night:

Here’s a nice close-up still of the action:

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Fittingly, the Panthers' slogan is "We see red."

After the fight, Gaustad went to the dressing room for attention, but it seemed to be only to see how much Panther blood could be dabbed off his jersey before he quickly returned to action.

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Rest, or reload them.

Besides the fight which helped cement the determination of the Sabres in front of Ryan Miller and his shutout, Goose finished with a +1, 5 PIM’s and helped lead the team with 2 blocked shots. Goose knows his role, and last night may just have been the most dangerous player that the Panthers had to face (with their faces).

Well done, Goose.

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I say there's room for a Goose on this team.

I’ll cap this post off with Gaustad’s season stats so far: 1 goal, plus 2, 14 PIM’s (leads team), 6 hits (t-6th), 7 blocked shots (t-4th), and he’s doing this within the limited ice time of a 4th line center. The defense has been clearing  Miller’s crease quite effectively this season, but Goose has been a key component on offense that’s been guarding the Sabres’ blue paint. Right now the Sabres are riding high alongside their 20 goals for/10 goals against stat, and toughness has been a big part of that.

Up next: Tampa Bay – where they tell the fans to “bring the Thunder” – another slogan that is asking for some facial rearrangement from the Goose.

Keep unleashing the thundersticks, Paul.

Go Sabres.

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Richards Update: Buffalo Talk Begins

It was inevitable.

With the New York Rangers and Toronto Maple Leafs often mentioned as the main suitors for Brad Richards in news reports, and failing to land his rights (so far), it was only a matter of time before a sports writer out there remembered that the Sabres are now owned by Terry Pegula.

Kevin Allen, of USA Today, just made the Pegula connection.

Richards, 31, could be the hottest free agent in the market, and there seems to be considerable interest in the Eastern Conference. The New York Rangers and Toronto Maple Leafs both need a center. Richards liked playing in Tampa before the Lightning dealt him to Dallas and he excelled under Rangers coach John Tortorella when both were on the Lightning. The Buffalo Sabres could try to make a signifcant offseason splash under new owner Terry Pegula, and they could use a top center if Tim Connolly is not going to be re-signed.

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