Gross Misconduct Hockey Thoughts from a drifter on the hockey landscape

06/02/2007

Shutting My Trap

Filed under: Anaheim Ducks,obstruction,Ottawa Senators,trap — Joe Yerdon @ 11:33 AM

Before the outcomes had been decided in the Wales Conference Eastern Conference Finals, ESPN.com columnist Damien Cox wrote a column that should’ve struck a nerve and resonated with each and every hockey fan and NHL fan alive.

The point of his column was that you didn’t have to like the Buffalo Sabres, you didn’t have to root for them, the city or the players – but what you should be doing is rooting for what they represent. Some folks pushed aside what he wrote as campaigning for the American team against the Canadian team – somehow, someway nationalism rears its ridiculous head into the discussion when it comes to hockey all the time.

What Cox was saying here, though, was that the way the Sabres play is the reason to root them on because the way they play is representative of how the NHL should be played. Fast skating, free-wheeling, high octane – you know, the way it used to be played back in the archaic 1980s.

Of course, now after witnessing the semi-nationally broadcasted torturous re-murder of the NHL that is being disguised as the 2007 Stanley Cup Finals, perhaps some folks will realize the error of their way for pshawing Cox’s column. Game 1 saw the abuse of the ignorance upon officials to call obstruction and while goals were scored, some folks sat on their hands and said, “Well, at least goals are still being scored while these teams continue to skate in each other’s way.”

Game 2 proved how quickly things can go from awful to nightmarishly horrific. The first goal of the game which proved to be the game-winning tally wasn’t scored until there were just under six minutes left to play in the third period. The Ducks continued to employ a suffocating neutral-zone trap that prevented the Senators from skating freely between the blue lines and then forced them to again and again dump the puck into the zone before gaining the line. Having to continually do this followed up with the defensemen stepping up and impeding the progress of the attackers (without penalty of course) made sure to earn Ottawa all of 16 shots on goal in the game leading J.S. Giguere to his easiest shutout since the 2003 Finals (forever to be known here as Hell on Ice).

With the Ducks throwing up hockey’s version of the Berlin Wall and using their defensive trap positioning to pick off passes and catch up to dump-ins before the Senators could even gain the zone (thanks to rampant, uncalled interference), Anaheim was able to long-distance pepper shots at Ray Emery. The game-winning goal was scored by Samuel Pahlsson thanks to a defensive “oopsie” courtesy of both Daniel Alfredsson and Joe Corvo. What kind of “oopsie” was it? Not interfering with anyone and standing everyone up illegally at the blue line. Give Pahlsson a ton of credit, he scored on a great shot – but that said, the Ducks are playing one style of hockey that we’d seen year in and year out while the Senators (no angels themselves in this regard, just ask Buffalo) are at least showing some signs of wanting to play hockey the right way.

Well that is until Bryan Murray saw that the Ducks are getting away with murder and has vowed to play the same way back at them.

GREAT!

What my main worry here with the Ducks making it this far was that teams next year would follow their lead and go back to old, bad, sport-ruining habits. Now it appears that we don’t even have to wait that long. Thanks a lot.

ESPN.com’s Scott Burnside made note of this in one of his articles, pulling this quote out (emphasis mine, as always):

Although Ottawa coach Bryan Murray didn’t complain about the Ducks’ obstructing
his team as he did the past two days, forward Dany Heatley said the Ducks are
playing them differently than any of their three previous playoff opponents.

“No question. No question,” Heatley said. “They do a good job, whether
it’s subtle or whether it’s blatant. They definitely play a real hold-up
style, defensive style.
We just have to find ways to battle through
it.”

Isn’t that supposed to be illegal under
the new rules?

“Yeah, it is,” Heatley said.


Now, I’m not going to just cite one quote and tell you that the sky is falling – I’ll just ask you to go ahead and re-watch those first two games and tell me what you think. Now does this mean the rest of the series will be unwatchable? Not really.

In the Calgary-Tampa Bay final three years ago we saw two terrible and nearly unwatchable games played in Games 1 and 2. Of course, the hype going into that final was that neither of these teams play the trap and we’d see the return to good old fashioned hockey. What happened then, of course, is that both teams were terrified of each other’s offensive weapons, got scared of taking any chances at all and bored everyone to tears by trying to out-trap and out-interfere each other. Thankfully that series went seven games and games 3-7 made up for everything else (for the most part).

If you’re going to tell me I should have hope that things will turn around in this series and that we may still see some exciting end-to-end style hockey though…you won’t catch me holding my breath as Anaheim has been doing this kind of crap all season and now moreso in the playoffs (with the added flair of being dirty as well) without being check-mated by the League. So now Ottawa in desperation is going to follow them down into the sewer and play things the same way because when in Rome you do as the Romans do. In this case, the Romans want us to be bored and not see a single compelling thing ever again.

05/15/2007

It Had To Happen Eventually

Filed under: boring,Dark Ages,Devils,trap — Joe Yerdon @ 7:13 PM

That’s right, the Buffalo Sabres finally played a real stinkbomb of a game. Luckily for them, Ryan Miller was in tip-top form and beyond. He really played out of his mind.

Of course, into each life a little rain must fall. One unlucky bounce followed up by the ever opportunistic Daniel Alfredsson putting it away and right there you had enough goals to determine an outcome in Game Three.

I mentioned yesterday that this absolutely was a gut-check game for the Sabres and given how everyone not named Ryan Miller played…well, it allows us to think of more than a few negative words and phrases to describe what it was the Sabres were doing out there.

All that aside, tip your caps to the Senators who stymied Buffalo all night long. The Sabres couldn’t get shots away nevermind on the net. Which leads me to some things I’ve been reading around the web forums. Call it sour grapes if you’d like, but there was grumbling coming from the ten or so New Jersey Devils fans saying that the Senators play the same way the Devils do but yet the poor wittle Devils take all the heat for it.

Not so fast there Aqua Net Brigade – let’s take a timeout here.

First of all, while it’s true the Devils weren’t the first team to employ non-hockey playing tactics in order to win hockey games (the Canadiens of the 1970s were) there’s a fundamental difference in how the Devils have and still do play hockey compared to how those Canadiens teams played it and how a team like the Senators plays it.

The Devils are, unfortunately for those of us with the distinguishing hockey eye, a well-oiled machine full of suck. They throw up the Berlin Wall across their own blueline when retreating back on defense. Their two forecheckers hang tight to the center red line, sometimes dropping one of those men back to make the wall across the blue line even more formidable. In my mind and in the mind of a lot of people who grew up watching the same hockey I did in the 1980s find this to be almost embarassing. After all, if professional hockey players can’t condition themselves to keep up with the guys they’re playing against…why does that make it OK now to have defensemen essentially be offensively retarded just so they can eat up space defensively, skate backwards and drag their stick across potential passing-lanes.

This style of defensive play was taught by Jacques Lemaire (now coaching and boring folks in Minnesota with the Wild) a former standout with the Montreal Canadiens during their dynastic days of the 1970s. Devils General Manager Lou Lamoriello seeing that Lemaire had a school of thought that met his approval and the approval of the bottom line of the company became the most ardent follower of Lemaire’s instructions.

All of the many coaches Lamoriello has hired, fired and re-hired again have all been made to follow the rule book: Play the dry, trapping, don’t bother to play offense style….or else I’ll fire you after you’ve gotten the team a playoff spot and I’ll take over and either hog the glory you’ve earned or drive the bandwagon into the river. Larry Robinson, hall of fame defenseman, is in particular Lou Lamoriello’s version of Billy Martin, which is sad in and of itself since Larry Robinson isn’t anywhere near as fiery a personality as Martin was otherwise I have the feeling Robinson would’ve done us all a favor a while ago and socked it to Lamoriello.

But I digress.

The point of this ramble here is that while yes, the Senators are playing some hybrid variation of the kind of “hockey” that generally drives me insane and makes me wish the Plague upon whoever decided to do that – they’re doing it differently. The Sens don’t spend the entirety of the game skating backwards and just waiting for teams to skate right up to them and dump it in the zone over their heads ending any and all ability to skate forward and generate offense. The key to beating a trap is to attack it and hit it in the mouth and make guys snap out of it. Buffalo hasn’t even come close to showing the fire needed to do this – all the while Ottawa still sends guys to attack once they’ve got the puck rather than dumping and chasing after it as well, something that turns hockey into the worst game of Pong ever created. Imagine if you played Pong and no one scored and the ball just bounced all over the screen with no way to make a result happen.

There, that’s what you get with the Devils/Wild/Ducks variation of “hockey” these days. Everyone had wrongly assumed that the trap as we knew it in the Dark Ages would be a distant, horrible memory – meanwhile rational thinking folks pulled examples out of the European Leagues about how teams would figure out a way to make it work and continue to employ it and well, what do you know….teams did just that same thing here. Rather than accent on speed and skill they continue to accent on slowing things down, interfering with guys chasing on the dump-ins and setting picks that the referees have suddenly started letting go once again now that we’ve reached the playoffs. BAD PRECEDENT!

Powered by WordPress