Going into last night’s Versus matchup between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Philadelphia Flyers, everyone thought the game would end up being a battle of the offenses. The Lightning are missing multiple key defensive players and have struggled on defense early this season (3.0 GA per game), and the Flyers have the most powerful offensive attack in the league right now (3.8 goals per game). Tampa Bay is no pushover, but this looked like a matchup made in heaven for the Flyers. If they pressed their offensive attack, they were sure to have a good chance at winning.
In a baffling turn of events, though, the Flyers refused to attack the Lightning’s defense. The Bolts were playing their typical 1-3-1 defensive arrangement — commonly referred to as The Trap — but the Flyers didn’t want anything to do with it. They hung back for the majority of the game, controlling the puck in their own zone — completely motionless on occasion — and waited for the Lightning to attack and switch to a forecheck. The Lightning didn’t take the bait, though, so the end result was the Flyers never put strong offensive pressure on the Bolts. They only took 15 shots all game, even after cutting back on their stalling tactics after the first period.
The Versus announcers seemed to view the Flyers’ strategy as a “statement” about the 1-3-1 trap, but if so, Philly didn’t get the point across. The Lightning fell behind 1-0 after allowing a power play goal to Scott Hartnell in the second period, but they tied it with 12 minutes to go in the third period on a power play goal by Marc-Andre Bergeron. They took a total of 24 shots and almost won the game late in the third period, but rookie Brett Connolly whiffed on golden opportunity in front of the net. He eventually redeemed himself, though, scoring the winning goal in overtime.
After the game, the Philadelphia players expressed some frustration at the Lightning and their defensive strategy. Their head coach Peter Laviolette had some choice words to say:
“They have a set forecheck in the neutral zone, so we have a set breakout," he said. "As soon as we get some pressure, we’ll get into our outs. If they don’t want us to stand there, they should come after us. Why are they going to just stand there?” (NHL.com)
Why are they going to stand there? Because that’s how they play the game, and it allowed them to beat the high-powered Flyer offense. The best way to get the Lightning to stop playing the 1-3-1 is to shred the defense and force them to change strategies. But by refusing to attack, the Flyers sent a very different message: we can’t beat that formation, and we’re afraid to engage it.
Some of the Flyers stated after the game that they hoped the NHL was watching and would take action. If other teams are smart, though, that action won’t be to play less of the Trap against the Flyers….it’ll be to play more.