Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Guest Post: Don't Leaf Me This Way

From Friend of Sportsthodoxy Bill Fisher

Last night, in the NHL, the New Jersey Devils played the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Leafs haven’t won a Stanley Cup since I was 5 weeks old. I did the math. This year, they’re going to make the playoffs. They won’t win the Cup; there are too many better teams out there (like, say, the Penguins, the Blackhawks, the Separatists...I mean the Canadiens). The Devils aren't going to make the playoffs, so they’re not going to win the Cup either.

The interesting thing about the game last night is that the Leafs had 13 shots on goal. That’s about half as many shots on goal as you might expect to see. The Devils had 32 SOG, in comparison. Why the big difference in number of shots? To paraphrase the Admiral in charge of the Rebel forces at the Battle of Endor, “IT’S THE TRAP!”

A quick summary of the Neutral Zone Trap, as created by the Devils: one forward covers the puck carrier, preventing a pass down the ice. The rest of the team clogs up the boards (2 per side) so that a side pass can be broken up easily and stop the attack. Now that the two-line pass is allowed, the trap is less effective, so instead, defensive-minded teams switch to a ‘third man high’ system, where effectively they have three defenders.

Neither of these defensive structures is at all entertaining.

One thing that makes hockey interesting is the natural speed of the sport. This year, the fastest skater in the NHL went about 30 MPH (I had to do more math). And he’s got knives on his feet. You don’t want to mess with a guy with knives on his feet (unless you have them too). Now, let’s take that really fast guy with knives on his feet and have him skate at 30 MPH into a brick wall. That’s entertaining once. Maybe twice. Then, you just feel bad for the guy bloodying his manly chin on a boring brick wall.

Maybe in the next year or two, we can hope the Devils will move out of a defensive mindset and start being more offensive. Although, being from New Jersey, maybe they’re already offensive enough.

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