I think Guy can bring a new system that could be – I don’t know what we’re going to call it – but it could be a new start in hockey – Simon Gagne, Sept. 21, 2010
When the Tampa Bay Lightning came into training camp with new coach Guy Boucher, he arrived with a unique brand of hockey in tow. His revolutionized version of the trap, featuring a 1-3-1 forecheck has baffled plenty of opponents and drawn the ire of one legendary goaltender.
It isn’t a traditional style, but Boucher’s passive techniques have taken his Lightning all the way to the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs against the Washington Capitals.
Now it’s Bruce Boudreau’s turn to deal with hockey’s new wonderboy.
Boudreau himself has been at the helm of a much-publicized turnaround. While Boucher installed his system in Tampa, it took the Capitals bench boss half the season to realize his philosophies required a few alterations.
Washington struggled through the winter months even trailing Tampa Bay in the Southeast division standings for a two-month stretch. However, they managed to reap the benefits of the shift to a defensive mindset, winning games in bunches after the trade deadline to secure the number one seed in the Eastern Conference for the second consecutive year.
Meanwhile Boucher added Dwayne Roloson to hold down a shaky defensive unit and the Lightning reached 100 points for the second time in franchise history. Then his club came back from a 3-1 series deficit against Pittsburgh to win and advance.
Boucher employed some unorthodox methods en route to this stage. He occasionally dresses seven defensemen and 11 forwards and like Boudreau shuffles his line combinations routinely.
Yet it’s his in-game strategy which truly sets him apart. Three skaters clog the middle of the ice, looking to make the most of an ill-advised neutral zone pass. It isn’t easy for opposing teams to set up shop in the offensive zone and they must always be wary of the ultra talented forwards such as Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis.
“Whatever we do, the biggest thing is we don’t turn the puck over,” said Bruce Boudreau. “I don’t know if patience is part of that, but they’re definitely pretty good when you turn the puck over. They’re great on the rushes. Odd man rushes – [all three lines] can create goals.”
Careless play from the Capitals will result in chances for some of the most deadly offensive players in the NHL. Having played them six times, Washington knows this.
Take for example when Tampa decided not to forecheck while trailing the Capitals in the middle of a 5-2 loss. Washington didn’t force anything, in fact sitting back waiting for the Lightning to challenge them.
That strategy works with a lead, but should Tampa score first Washington will have to be more aggressive and navigate through the labyrinth that is the 1-3-1.
However, they can’t simply throw caution to the winds when playing from behind. The Lightning thrive on neutral zone errors so Boudreau will have to concoct a measured yet up-tempo attack.
“In the neutral zone they don’t really force too much,” said Jason Chimera. “They wait for you to make mistakes and create turnovers. We can’t do that.”
And the Capitals didn’t during the season, winning four of the teams’ six meetings.
“We know how to play against them,” Chimera said. “We played against them lots in the regular season. Any system you can beat. Any system is beatable, it’s just [comes down to] hard work.”
After a short yet physical series against the Rangers, the Caps know a thing or two about out-working their opponent. Tampa Bay brings more firepower to the table than the Rangers, but it doesn’t mean the Washington can be any less attentive to the minor details which allowed them to beat New York in five games.
Boudreau said on Thursday he didn’t want the focus of the series to be on coaching, but with Boucher’s unconventional tactics in play, he may have no choice but to conjure up some magic of his own.
Let the chess match begin.