Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Nhl Needs to Put Boring Defensive Systems on Ice

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Nhl Needs to Put Boring Defensive Systems on Ice

Article excerpt

Tuesday night's Blues-Lightning clash in Tampa was hockey as it oughta be.

There was end-to-end action. Fierce hitting. Clever tape-to-tape passing. Booming shots on goal.

Lightning goaltender Rick Tabaracci didn't enjoy the spectacle - he was too busy stopping breakaways by Brett Hull and Joe Murphy and swatting a Hull shot out of midair with his paddle - but almost everybody else in the Ice Palace did. This was a product that sells to Sun Belt markets such as Tampa, Fla., a hybrid of transplanted hockey fans and open-minded samplers. Tampa Bay won the reckless game 3-2, but it just as easily could have been a 6-5 Blues victory. Why can't we see high-tempo hockey like this every game? Because National Hockey League coaches, like their National Basketball Association brethren, have devised stifling team defenses that neutralize individual offensive talent. And the general managers have blocked NHL efforts to reduce the clutching and grabbing that augments those defenses. Don't get mad at the coaches, who are only doing their jobs. Do you want them to sit around their hotel rooms all day watching B movies? Such defenses give almost any team a chance to win (or, more accurately, tie) almost any game. Blues assistant coach Roger Nielson made masterful use of the neutral zone trap while head coach of the expansion Florida Panthers, instilling a defensive work ethic that still serves the team well. Nielson didn't invent the trap, just as David Letterman didn't invent the concept of teaching pets to do stupid tricks. But both guys took those respective art forms to higher levels. Now New Jersey Devils coach Jacques Lemaire is the acknowledged trapmaster. He rolls out four lines of mostly interchangeable forwards and grinds away. He could dress a few steelworkers, slip them onto a line with Bobby Holik and nobody would know the difference. Detroit Red Wings assistant coach Barry Smith took some heat off Lemaire by polishing the loathsome "left-wing lock," which apparently involves handcuffs. Now the once-exciting Red Wings play like the Devils, rendering their games as exciting as a two-hour wait in the deli line behind nimrods flummoxed by too many sliced ham options. …

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