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09-30-2003, 01:26 AM
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Originally Posted by bb74
Thanks for the insight - I guess this leaves me wondering about the 2nd half of the question I had - does Boston have the roster to succeed in this system?

Although you were discussing last years transition game, I believe the trap - or some close concoction thereof - requires good D mobility and passing to be maintain pressure in the neutral and offensive zone. Today the B's have average mobility, average - at best passing on the D and no-one that can man the rush up the boards (Mcgillis? maybe - Jillson a tbd) So this shuts down the transition game and forces the forwards to back check more and lets the other team install their system in the D zone... That does not bode well for the B's.

On top of that - the aggressive forecheck requires some big (at least in heart) bodies to get puck possession in the corners - 1st line - I only see Thornton doing this (maybe Knuble if he is on the line again). 2nd line - who knows? And for the 3rd line Lapointe - but he is not all that fast to get the pressure deep before the D gets to the puck (assuming dump and chase). Even if we were to adopt a similar offensive zone strategy as last year - I don't see how, as a team with the pieces in place today, we can effectively execute this system (not trying to be negative but the fundamental pieces just don't seem to be there...)
Good questions. First, let's look at the trap.

In the trap, you don't forecheck. What you do is wait for the other team to come out. What happens is the centerman forces the defenseman with the puck to one side of the ice. When he forces him to one side, the winger from the opposite side comes into the middle and they basically form a triangle around the man with the puck. You basically have five men on one side of the ice. You hope the guy tries to stickhandle through the trap and tries to pass through the trap, then you knock the puck down and you get a turnover. What the opponent will try to do in order to break through the trap is get the puck from the side where all the men are on to the other side of the ice where there's hardly anyone. If they can do that consistently, they'll have some success. But what happens is they try to pass through that trap, it gets knocked down, and bang, all of a sudden, there's a 2-on-1 going the other way. That's what the trap is designed to do: create turnovers.

So, in terms of how mobility and the transition game come into play with the trap, first, a great deal of mobility isn't needed by the defensemen in order to follow this plan. For the most part, if they execute effectively, they will be spending less time in their end and more in the nuetral zone. However, I do understand your point. The thought is, if the defensemen cannot transition the puck up ice, how does the team effectively play the trap? Well, they don't have carry it out. They can send it up ice and make the opponent circle back for it. As they do, the five players move into position at center ice.

However, if the opponent also plays the trap, then the B's will not be facing aggressive play from oncoming forecheckers. Therefore, the power of transition and skilled defensemen play a lesser role, unless the opponent loses possession while they are positioned deep in the Bruins zone.

All this aside, I do think you raise a vital point about the importance of speed, skill and transitioning ability on defense. If you watched the `02 playoffs against Montreal, you saw first hand how such a fundamental weakness can be exploited. The Habs dumped the puck in deep and made the Bruins defensemen handle it. Then, they skated in with speed and aggressively attacked the B's defense. Because the Bruins lacked puck skill, speed and mobility on the backline, they often had to rush their plays. This is where the Habs looked for interceptions and broken plays. It created havoc in the Bruins end and the chaos led to several backdoor goals. Unless you have Hasek in net to mop up your mistakes, your hosed. Amongother things, this was the Bruins major downfall.

So yeah, lack of skill and mobility on defense can be deadly. I've been kinda harping on that since Berard and Girard fell out of the picture. With the increased speed of today's game, teams intent on pressuring the play and pursuing the puck can create turnovers against those with a largely immobile defense. This is why I am unsure about the Bruins right now. They have three potential fundamental weaknesses: goaltending, defense and center. It's really very concerning.

As far as the Bruins and an aggressive forecheck, they can be effective without having big bodies. To do this, they will have to rely on speed and positioning. That not only means the guys down low forcing the play, but all 5 players on the ice. In particular, the defensemen have to know how much they can move up into the play depending on where the puck is. This depends on the extent of their awareness, decision making and mobility. Still, there is nothing like a man going to the boards and crunching bodies a la Cam Neely. The Bruins don't have big hitters, but they do have Thornton, Knuble, Lapointe and Grosek. Other than that, they will have to rely on the tenacity of players like Axelsson and Samsonov.

In the end, you are right about the importance of transitioning defensemen. A good, puck carrying blueliner who can make a tape-to-tape first pass can really set the play. Such a player can almost make it appear like the offense is coming in waves. And though the neutral-zone defenses we now have have taken away some of that freedom of movement by a defenseman, there is still a chance to catch a defense flat-footed and off-guard. And the real key is that even though the checking gets so tight up front, there can still be room for a fourth or fifth player to move into the play -- and that defenseman often can find an opening that the forwards can't. This is huge. Look at New Jersey last year. Every pairing had a puck-moving defenseman -- Brian Rafalski with Scott Stevens, Scott Niedermayer with Colin White, etc. The flow they created helped the Devils offensively when it looked like they had one-and-a-half lines up front. More importantly, it helped ensure they were multidimensional, instead of just being a counterattacking team.

Any kind of gameplan will be better with a transitioning defense, just as it would benefit from solid goaltending and good centers.

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