So much has been said of the Tampa Bay Lightning's 1-3-1 system recently, and St. Louis Blues fans will get a chance to see the secret to the Bolts' success tonight. Of course, when you factor in Dwayne Roloson playing like a goalie half his age, and the modern day Hull and Oates duo of Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis, it makes it less about the system and more about the fact that this is a really good team.
That might seem ironic to say, as so many people recently have been crowing about Ken HItchcock's defensively responsible systems, and how he might very well have fixed the power play in one practice. However, with Hitchcock's teams, the system doesn't become the star - but with Guy Boucher, the coach's plan has recently overshadowed the powerful players that Tampa Bay has. Much controversy has developed after the Philadelphia Flyers, frustrated that the Lightning wouldn't allow them to smoothly break out of their own zone (or that they were crushing the game and making it dull, depending on who you talk to), skated around in circles with the puck and passed it back and forth, refusing to go anywhere:
It was the hockey version of a smart-ass Chris Pronger retort: you think you're smart? Well, here you go. Needless to say, people were upset - at the Lightning, for playing such a shutdown style of hockey that it forced the opposition to stand around in their own zone. Ryan Lambert at Puck Daddypoints out why this is so stupid, and he's right. It's their system, you're supposed to figure out a way to counter it, and this isn't the way.
It's pretty much a given that the Blues won't be pulling anything like this tonight. Instead of making a passive statement, Hitchcock's going to make an aggressive one, by not allowing their 1-3-1 system to form:
"I think you make too much of that," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "They play with structure, so how do you counteract the structure? To me, it's like any team. If you allow a team to set up in their structure, they're going to beat you, doesn't matter if it's 1-3-1, 1-2-2 or 2-1-2.
"You have to attack the structure before they set up. ... It's the same as an offensive zone forechecking system. You have to find a way to get by it before it sets its course. So for us it's about not allowing them to control the tempo of the game."
Quite frankly, Hitchcock's right. Philadelphia still allowed Tampa to control the tempo of the game to a crawl, regardless of if it was meant as a statement or not. Effective teams don't do that, they instead find a way to outplay the opposition and to make sure that they can't do what they need to do.
Surprisingly, Hitchcock's going with Brian Elliott tonight. Jaroslav Halak has turned in back-to-back solid performances after gradually clawing his way up from a terrible start to the season. There's a distinct possibility that Hitchcock wants to see how his back-up can perform for himself. Blues fans know that so far this season, Elliott's performed just fine, and the goaltender performs just fine against the Bolts. He has a 2-2-1 record, with a 2.35 GAA and a .906 SV% against the Lightning, and those face-offs against Tampa Bay came when Elliott was a member of a weaker Ottawa Senators team. The Blues' this season are a more solid team than either the Senators or the Avalanche were when Elilott was a part, so perhaps fans in St. Louis are seeing what the goaltender really is capable of.
The Blues are going to have to crack the system if they want to get to Roloson. He's 7-2-1 with a 1.58 GAA in his last ten starts against the Blues. The Blues used to dominate the Bolts at home, beating them ten times in a row, but the last two matchups the Lightning've taken. It would certainly make a statement that Hitchcock's turning this team around if the winning streak against the Lightning could be restored.