Peter Laviolette failed to achieve the success master-tactician Dean Smith did with the four-corner stall offence his national-champion North Carolina basketball team occasionally employed decades ago. But the message delivered by Laviolette's Philadelphia Flyers was heard loud and clear around the NHL and its fans on Wednesday evening.
When Tampa Bay Lightning head coach Guy Boucher instructs his players to sit back in a passive 1-3-1 neutral zone trap, the game is boring. The Flyers took the extreme route to make this point by holding the puck on several occasions in their own end in the first period of a game that was nationally shown in the United States and Canada.
Twice, the Flyers were whistled for not advancing the puck, which resulted in a face-off in Philadelphia's end. In another strange twist, while holding the puck in their own end, players on the Flyers bench stood up and verbally taunted their Lightning counterparts as they sat back and waited and waited.
The Lightning didn't bite, and in the end, they won. They beat the NHL's top offensive team 2-1 in overtime. Boucher's system worked. Without two of their top defenceman, Mattias Ohlund and Victor Hedman another solid forward in Ryan Malone, the Lightning held a healthy Philadelphia squad to only 15 shots in 62 minutes of hockey.
It wasn't pretty, but it was effective. Winning, after all, is the main objective. The Lightning doesn't always play this way. Boucher likes to mix up his forecheck. Sometimes his team is aggressive. Sometimes his players sit back. Sometimes his team wins, sometimes it doesn't.
But after the Lightning advanced to the East final in Boucher's rookie season last year, you can't argue with Tampa Bay's success. The Boston Bruins found a way to beat them in the conference final. The Bruins beat the Lightning again this season. So have the Florida Panthers, twice, the New York Islanders, Washington Capitals, Nashville Predators and Carolina Hurricanes.
Last year, to a lesser degree both the Flyers and Capitals used stall tactics against the Lightning. There are no winners when hockey becomes a chess match like it did at the St. Petes Times Forum on Wednesday.
But can the league do anything? There is little doubt that this will be a topic at the NHL general managers meeting in Toronto on Tuesday. Maybe they can come up with a rule to make the team without the puck to engage in its forecheck a little more than the Lightning do. But unless what the Flyers did last night becomes more prevalent in games the Lightning decide to sit back, why succumb to the hasty reaction out there?
Flyers defenceman Chris Pronger asked reporters after the game, "Would you pay to see that? I wouldn't, either."
Well, 19,204 attended the game against the Flyers on Wednesday. It was the Lightning's sixth home game. They're eighth in league attendance with an average crowd of 19,033.
Maybe the Flyers need to go back to the drawing board. They haven't had much success against Boucher's Lightning. In the four games between the two teams last season, the only Flyers win was a 4-3 shootout victory in the final meeting on Feb. 15.
The Flyers used the stall tactic to a lesser degree in that game, too. According to Philadelphia veteran forward Jaromir Jagr, the Flyers practiced the stall game this week.
"It's part of the game," Jagr said. "We practiced for it the last two days. For part of the game, it worked for us. We just couldn't finish it."
Maybe next time on Dec. 10 in Philadelphia the Flyers will finish the Lightning off. We know plenty will watch, and maybe some will even pay to watch.
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