TAMPA, Fla. — On paper, the Tampa Bay Lightning have one of the most exciting teams in hockey. Even with Ryan Malone and Victor Hedman injured, the Lightning can still boast Vincent Lecavalier, Martrin St. Louis, Steven Stamkos and Teddy Purcell. It’s a team that shouldn’t have trouble scoring. It’s also a team that one would suspect plays "old-fashioned fire-wagon hockey."
But when the Lightning come to Winnipeg on Monday night, Jets fans are going to see a team that loves to trap — a team that only seems to think about mounting an offense when it has the power-play, or when it falls behind. After all, when the Lightning beat the Jets 1-0 on Oct. 29, it was one of the few times this season the Lightning had scored the first goal of the hockey game. Even with that, Tampa took only 27 shots at Ondrej Pavelec while the Jets managed 28 on Dwayne Roloson.
On Wednesday night here at the St. Pete Times Forum, Philadelphia head coach Peter Laviolette appeared determined to show the hockey world that the Lightning are as boring as the outcome of their games this season would suggest.
A few minutes into the game, Laviolette had defenseman Braydon Cobourn stand in the faceoff circle just to the right of his goalie Ilya Bryzgalov and hold the puck. He actually had Cobourn just stand there and wait for the Lightning to challenge him.
Instead of challenging, the Lightning set up a one-three-one trap and didn’t come inside the Flyers zone. As the seconds ticked off the clock and the crowd got restless, you could see the frustration on the faces of the two referees, Chris Rooney and Winnipeg’s Rob Martell. The Lightning refused to forecheck, so the Flyers refused to move the puck.
"That’s their game," said Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger, after Tampa won 2-1 in overtime despite taking only 15 shots on goal. "We were making them look bad but we didn’t do it on purpose. That’s the way they play. Watch their games. That’s the way they play. And with all that talent. But no, they’re just going to stand there. Would you pay money to watch that? What a great way to showcase our product. And that was a nationally televised game, too. Maybe Shanny (Brendan Shanahan) should do something to regulate that."
Eventually linesman Tim Nowak blew the whistle and called for a faceoff in the very circle where Cobourn held the puck. That incensed Laviolette, but he didn’t blow a gasket until later in the period — after he had his defensemen do it two more times. The third time, Rooney skated to the penalty bench and took the head phones, apparently to talk to the tall foreheads in Toronto. Everyone figured he was just asking what the hell he was supposed to do.
"I hope everybody saw that because that’s the way they play all the time," Pronger reiterated. "We weren’t trying to make any kind of statement. We were just waiting for them to forecheck. That’s not a forecheck. It’s a stance. It’s their goal-line stand.
"Eventually they came out of it and in the third period and overtime it was a heck of a game. But somebody had to make them come out of their stance."
One of hockey’s greatest legends was at the game on Wednesday and he didn’t think much of Tampa’s approach to the game, either.
"You’re watching history," said Chicago Blackhawks Senior Adsvisor of Hockey Operations Scotty Bowman, who was sitting a few seats down from me in the press box. "Nobody has ever done that before. You’re watching history."
I asked Bowman if he’d ever thought of doing that when he coached.
"No, never would have crossed my mind," said Bowman who won nine Stanley Cups as head coach of the Montreal Canadiens, Pittsburgh Penguins and Detroit Red Wings. "I think Laviolette just wants to show everybody that this is horse-sh!# hockey."
The Philly coach had his defensemen hold the puck a few more times in the first and second periods — seven times in total — but eventually decided to just start rushes. He’d proved his point. The LIghtning trap and that trap is obvious.
"I think he just wanted to embarrass them," Bowman said. "I thought the Flyers might do some criss-crossing to try and start a rush or two, but they just stood there and Tampa didn’t even bother to forecheck.
"They (Tampa) didn’t do much of anything all night unless they had the man advantage."
According to Mark Didier of The Associated Press, Washington’s Bruce Boudreau "did it a couple of times in here last year, but not to the extent that Laviolette did it."
Although Pronger migfht not agree, it was obvious that Laviolette was trying to make a statement and he succeeded, too. In 2005, when the NHL came back after the season-long lockout, the league’s tall foreheads were committed to opening up the game. Seems they’ve failed. Despite dropping the centre line from two-line offside calls and doing everything possible to legislate more goal scoring (they even tried to re-interprete rules they already had) they failed.
Last year, one player scored 100 points (Daniel Sedin had 104), one player scored 50 goals (Corey Perry had 50) and only 29 players scored 30 goals or more. Granted, that’s more than the year before the lockout. In 2003-04, no player scored 100 points, the leading goal scorer had only 41 and only 20 players scored 30 goals or more.
However, the year after the lockout, seven players scored 100 points (Joe Thornton led with 125), five players scored 50 goals or more and 47 players scored at least 30 goals. At first, it appeared the league had succeeded in opening up its game.
But we all knew that eventually NHL coaches would find the trap and the lock again and by 2007-08, those coaches who would rather lose 1-0 than win 9-8 had succeeded. That year there were only two 100-point scorers, three 50-goal scorers and 28 30-goal scorers.
Wednesday night, a frustrated Peter Laviolette decided to show the hockey world how widespread the trap has become again. Those who saw it might be wise to take notice.