| Neutral zone
Trap the trap
2/2/09 - By Steve Flores
With about two and a half
months left in the season the San Jose Sharks will soon be readying themselves
for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Everyone will soon be sitting with baited breathe
and crossing fingers, legs and toes in hopes that the Bay Area's hockey
franchise will be able to break past their usual second round departure.
People are wondering which team they may draw in the first round etc.
The Western Conference is loaded with quality teams. Any team that the Sharks
will confront will present problems. That is why I am not overly concerned with
'who' they play as much as in 'what' they will have to contend with.
In simple terms the Sharks are going to have to contend with that which I feel
is the biggest bane in the modern NHL: The Neutral Zone Trap.
yeah I know that league officials and even some fans will scoff at me and say
that the referees call holding and hooking and blah, blah, blah. The truth is
that it is called, but not nearly as often as it should be.
I am not
going to go into definitive detail regarding 'the trap'. As most of you know it
is a method of defense employed (between the blue lines) where the defensive
team positions all or nearly all of its players (forwards high - defensemen
low) between those blue lines.
This very effective bottleneck style of
defense takes the zip and speed away from skill teams and drastically cuts down
on offensive flow. The league trend towards this style became so rampant,
during the 1990's and early 2000 season's, that the league instructed the
referees to call more hooking and holding penalties in the neutral zone. These
two misdemeanors are an inevitable part of the trapping style. The emphasis on
these calls began when play resumed after the lockout. The problem is that, as
time has gone on, teams have begun to go back to this style of defense.
Think it's not rampant? Think I am making this stuff up? Look around
the league. It may shock you to know that one of the league's most respected
offensive teams - The Pittsburgh Penguins- are now using the trap. Yes, folks
the team that has Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin has reverted to a defensive
style of play. The Penguins were suffering offensively and Head Coach Michael
Therrien saw fit to install a more defensive method to compensate for the teams
lack of forward power. The Penguins win percentage has grown since the trap was
The Sharks have faced several teams (Vancouver being the
most glaring example) that have employed the trap against them. The Canucks
basically played a 6 Goalie side, got a lead of 1-0 and attempted to trap the
Sharks to death. The game was unfit to watch and fittingly the Sharks managed
to claw out a win against a Vancouver side that did everything they could to
not lose, rather than doing their utmost to try and win. I am not gonna argue
with the pundits that claim that Vancouver did what they had to do to win. My
issue here is that the Sharks speed, size and skill is heavily neutralized when
confronted with a team that can trap and trap well.
The Calgary Flames are a burr in the Sharks fin. They
play gritty, hard, controlled and yes, downright borderline dirty at times.
That is hockey. Mix in the fact that they can clog the neutral zone with the
best of em and that spells trouble for the Sharks.
penalties are called in the post-season. That is always the case folks. With
fewer penalties being called then it is logical to assume that the trap will be
an effective weapon that teams will use against San Jose . Don't for a minute
think that all of the other franchises aren't aware of the difficulties of
dealing with the trap.
The Ghoul of hockey is alive and well and the
monster's reach is growing. Shark's Head Coach Todd McLellan is surely aware of
the 'what if's' and 'what might's' of the post season. Here is hoping that he
has some trick up his sleeve that can find an answer to the problems presented
by the defensive scheme that may well be the reason that sees the Sharks once
again eliminated earlier than its fans, players and team management are hoping
for. The neutral zone trap may present as big a problem as the Detroit Red
Wings or the Boston Bruins.
Contact Steve at
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