NHL Week in Review (Nov. 6-12)

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Before 2005 the NHL had become a very defensive league where the offence was few and far between. This was in large part due to the allowance of hooking and holding as well as limiting the use of a stretch pass past two lines. These rules gave life to a new system in the NHL as the Neutral Zone Trap was created and slowed down the game more than ever. The New Jersey Devils were famous for running the Trap and it brought them to the top of the league more than once. During the lockout in the NHL the management in the NHL tried to find ways to open up the game and find out ways to increase the offence. This meant that the NHL would ask the referees to begin calling more penalties for holding and hooking. This decreased the ability for defenders to slow the offence down. The biggest rule change was the removal of the redline that allowed the offence to use the stretch pass. Without this rule the Trap was essentially broken as the stretch pass continued to be used to get in behind the trap and break it. Through a period of adjustment the offence did become bigger with new players and new systems working to get more goals. Then came Guy Boucher who took over as the head coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Boucher created a new defensive system that was essentially an updated version of the Neutral Zone Trap. This new system also adds a small offensive aspect to it with a forechecker. The system sees one defender back at the blue line while three more players stand at the centre line and one offensive player stands at the forward blue line. This 1-3-1 system sees the three players at the centre line prevent anyone from getting past the centre of the ice with a single defender as backup. The forechecker stands at the forward blue line in order to add the necessary offence needed for this system to work in the new NHL. The 1-3-1 system has been praised as one of few new developments in the game and has allowed the Lightning to become a very dangerous team. Last year this system helped to bring the Lightning throughout the playoffs to the Eastern Conference Finals. Boucher has continued to use this system this year as well and has been praised for it. That was until this week when the Lightning faced off against Philadelphia Flyers. During this game the Lightning began using the 1-3-1 system when one of the strangest things I have ever seen happened. Chris Pronger began the breakout from his own zone but instead of passing the puck up the ice he stood there. Pronger stood at the centre of the faceoff circle for 30 seconds without moving the puck to anyone. Meanwhile the Lightning remained in the 1-3-1 with Martin St. Louis skating in circles at the blue line. The point of the actions by the Flyers was an attempt to get St. Louis to pinch and attack Pronger and when he did this Pronger would pass the puck essentially breaking the 1-3-1. The Lightning refused to fall for the trap and a stand-off occurred where absolutely nothing happened for a long time. The incident brought up a lot of concern for the game as people began saying that the 1-3-1 system was bad for hockey as it would reduce the offence again and draw people away from the game. It is not all the Lightning’s fault of course as they were playing a system and the Flyers decided not to do anything. The blame needs to go to both sides but the fact that the Flyer’s solution to a new defensive system was to try to embarrass them by doing nothing is a little concerning to me. Is the NHL reaching a point of laziness where there is not attempt at a mental game where coaches play a game to try to best the other. The creativity in the league is drying up and the 1-3-1 system is one of the biggest advancements in the NHL in past years and learning to break through this system is something that a smart coach should be able to do. This is the chess match that professional sports are made of and the fact that the only solution for a new system is to essentially give up is a sad aspect of the NHL. Of course the 1-3-1 is not the most exciting system but finding a way to break it would be another accomplishment and would be exciting for the fans.

As the season progresses teams begin to look at their prospects and a lot of them begin to fix things in order to make a run at the playoffs. A big change that many teams undertake is changing the coaches, mainly because they are a lot cheaper than the players. The first casualty of these changes was Davis Payne who was fired as the head coach of the St. Louis Blues. After 13 games the Blues went 6-7 as the slack was obviously not very big. In his place the Blues hired Ken Hitchcock who has been a coach in the NHL since 1995. As a head coach Hitchcock has won a Stanley Cup and has been to 9 playoffs in 15 seasons. Hitchcock has guided his team to a 2-1 record this week and will hope to keep them rolling all year. Meanwhile as the first pebble fell there will be plenty of other coaches that could be on the hot seat. The most likely of the coaches to be fired next is Scott Arniel with the Columbus Blue Jackets who is on the edge of being fired. Along with him Paul Maurice, Brent Sutter, and Jacques Martin are all on the hot seat. The coaching carousel has started and expect more coaching casualties to come as the NHL continues into the heart of the season.

 

Standings

 

Eastern Conference:

Atlantic Division:

1. Pittsburgh Penguins (23)

2. New York Rangers (21)

3. Philadelphia Flyers (19)

4. New Jersey Devils (17)

5. New York Islanders (11)

Northeast Division:

1. Toronto Maple Leafs (21)

2. Buffalo Sabres (20)

3. Ottawa Senators (17)

4. Boston Bruins (16)

5. Montreal Canadiens (16)

Southeast Division:

1. Washington Capitals (21)

2. Florida Panthers (19)

3. Tampa Bay Lightning (18)

4. Carolina Hurricanes (15)

5. Winnipeg Jets (13)

 

Western Conference:

Central Divison:

1. Chicago Blackhawks (23)

2. Detroit Red Wings (19)

3. Nashville Predators (19)

4. St. Louis Blues (17)

5. Columbus Blue Jackets (7)

Northwest Division:

1. Edmonton Oilers (20)

2. Minnesota Wild (19)

3. Vancouver Canucks (17)

4. Colorado Avalanche (17)

5. Calgary Flames (15)

Pacific Division:

1. Dallas Stars (22)

2. Phoenix Coyotes (19)

3. San Jose Sharks (19)

4. Los Angeles Kings (19)

5. Anaheim Ducks (15)

 

Three Stars:

1. Tyler Seguin, C (Boston Bruins)

4 G

2 A

6 P

+4 +/-

 

2. Jimmy Howard, G (Detroit Red Wings)

3-0-0

1.33 GAA

.948 SV%

1 SO

 

3. Jonathan Toews, C (Chicago Blackhawks)

4 G

2 A

6 P

+6 +/-

 

Key Scores:

Vancouver Canucks 6 – 3 Chicago Blackhawks

– In a matchup of one of the more modern rivalries the Blackhawks and Canucks took their matchup out of the playoffs with the Canucks taking the first shot this season

 

San Jose Sharks 4 – 2 Los Angeles Kings

– The Matchup of California the Kings lost out to a surging Sharks teams taking the first shot in the California Trio

 

Tampa Bay Lightning 2 – 1 Philadelphia Flyers (OT)

– In one of the strangest games the Philadelphia tried to break the 1-3-1 trap of the Lightning by doing nothing that ended up not working with the Lightning winning in OT

 

Ottawa Senators 5 – 2 Toronto Maple Leafs

– The Battle of Ontario finished their second game with the same result as the Sens took advantage of a struggling Leafs team to get their big win

 

Key Matchups Next Week:

New York Rangers vs. New York Islanders (November 15th; 7:00 pm)

– The battle of New York will enter its first stanza as the Islanders look to make up some ground on their city rivals the Rangers

 

Anaheim Ducks vs. Los Angeles Kings (November 16th; 10:30 pm)

– Another week and another matchup between two of the three California Teams as the Kings and Ducks face off

 

Detroit Red Wings vs. San Jose Sharks (November 17th; 10:30 pm)

– The Western Conference Semi-Finals will be back this game with the Sharks taking the series last year in the playoffs as the Red Wings look to get revenge

 

Washington Capitals vs. Toronto Maple Leafs (November 19th; 7:00 pm)

– The Capitals will make their first appearance on Hockey night in Canada this year as they will taking on the surprisingly good Maple Leafs

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