The hockey world was abuzz after Tampa Bay's nationally televised game against the Philadelphia Flyers on Wednesday, debating whether the Lightning's style of play is a buzz kill.
Shortly after the opening faceoff, the Flyers held the puck in their own zone while Tampa Bay set up in a 1-3-1 neutral zone trap, a system the Lightning use to force turnovers. The Flyers did not go on the attack, instead trying to pull the Lightning out of their defensive posture.
Neither team budged in its strategy, with Philadelphia employing the tactic a handful of times and Tampa Bay keeping its formation.
During intermission on Versus, which broadcast the game, studio analysts Mike Milbury and Keith Jones strongly criticized Tampa Bay's style of play. Milbury stated head coach Guy Boucher should be "embarassed'' for using it. Jones said "good for (Philadelphia coach) Peter Laviolette for finally showing it.''
Canada's TSN network, which showed the Ottawa-New York Rangers game, scrapped the scheduled intermission topic to concentrate on what was taking place in Tampa.
"I almost played both sides of the fence on TV, saying, 'Did I like it? No. Did I enjoy it? No. Did I understand? Absolutely,' '' former NHL defenseman and current TSN analyst Aaron Ward said of the stalemate.
"But coaches are judged on (wins) and when you have the highest scoring team coming in in Philadelphia and you have to make up a game plan, you know what the makeup of your locker room is and you can determine what is going to be successful. The 1-3-1 in clogging the middle is going to do that."
The Lightning won 2-1 in overtime, limiting the Flyers to a season-low 15 shots on goal.
Boucher was not bothered by the criticism.
"I don't care what people say," Boucher said on Thursday. "I coach our team and I'm paid to win games and our rink is full. (General manager) Steve Yzerman is happy. The comments don't bother me and I really don't know the extent of it.
"We play the same way we played last year and we're going to continue playing that way. In every game, every team has a strategy. We have a strategy against the other team and during the game we adjust and re-adjust and other teams have to do the same against us. It's an ongoing process, whether it's on the ice or off the ice. The only thing that matters is what happens on the ice. We've got our strengths and weaknesses. We play to our strengths."
There was even some suggestion Tampa Bay's top players such as Steven Stamkos, Vinny Lecavalier and Marty St. Louis should be embarrassed to be asked to play in this system.
"I don't agree with that,'' Ward said. "One of the greatest things about hockey is upsetting the focus of the opponent. And do you think Philly was all that thrilled about playing that game? They managed one goal, and they are way ahead of everybody in goals scored."
The discussion extended to locker rooms throughout the league.
"You want to see hockey, people pay to see a show, people pay to see skating and skills and stuff like that,'' former Lightning wing Alex Tanguay told reporters in Calgary. "And I guess it's working for (Tampa), but as far as I'm concerned, if I was a fan paying, I would much rather see a team that is aggressive and skating rather than a team that is waiting for something out there."
Toronto coach Ron Wilson was an interested observer.
"It gives me food for thought … but I hear people say that's a trap, it's not a trap, it's a 1-3-1 and we use it sometimes off faceoffs when we lose a faceoff," Wilson told reporters on Thursday. "A lot of teams use it now based on the success Tampa had last year doing it. But not to the extent where a guy doesn't go over the blue line to check, that's boring to me.''
Tampa Bay is not alone in its strategy, Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff said.
"It's more pronounced than other teams, but there's probably 15 teams that play 1-3-1," Ruff told the Buffalo News. "We play it on occasion. We like a couple different looks, though. That's his right to play whatever system he wants."
Lecavalier was a bit surprised by all the backlash.
"For the past 95 games it's been the same system and we didn't change anything, so that's why I'm surprised there is all this talk about it,'' he said. "I don't really care about what they are saying. We are playing the way we want to play and that's it.''
Boucher was steadfast.
"When we attack, we attack. When we defend, we defend – pack mentality," he said. "So I don't want to answer to other people. We're ourselves and that's who we are and that's how I coach. I'm paid to win."