1-3-1 trap becomes Lightning rod
Just as the Penguins aren't the same team that they were in last season's playoff series, Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos, right, isn't the same player. He leads the Lightning with 18 points this season, including five goals in his past five games.
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The Penguins spent some time in practice Wednesday tweaking a few parts of their neutral-zone play.
Then, they spent some time afterward talking about the game tonight at Tampa Bay against a team that ousted the Penguins in the first round of the playoffs in April and recently has come under inspection for its particular brand of trap.
This much is clear: The Penguins are not afraid of the big, bad 1-3-1 defense.
"We'll attack them with speed. We'll see how they're going to adjust," winger Pascal Dupuis said.
- Matchup: Penguins vs. Tampa Bay Lightning, 7:38 p.m. today, St. Pete Times Forum, Tampa, Fla.
- TV, radio: Root Sports, WXDX-FM (105.9).
- Probable goaltenders: Marc-Andre Fleury for Penguins. Dwayne Roloson for Lightning.
- Penguins: Split series with Tampa Bay past two seasons. ... James Neal has seven-game points streak (4 goals, 7 assists) and led NHL with 6 power-play goals before Wednesday. ... Have killed 13 consecutive power plays over past five games.
- Lightning: Has lost two games in a row. ... Is 5-0 when leading after two periods. ... Vincent Lecavalier tied for NHL lead with four winning goals going into Wednesday.
- Hidden stat: Of the 21 first-period goals Tampa Bay has allowed this season, only two have come at home.
"We're the kind of team that plays fast. It works for us. I don't think we'll change our way of playing. We'll do a couple little things differently, but, obviously, the stamp of our team is playing fast and going north. That's what makes us successful."
The Penguins' system of quick puck retrieval and snap transitions would seem to be a logical counter to the Lightning's tactic.
That's not what Philadelphia did Nov. 3 against Tampa Bay. A few times, when the Lightning lost possession of the puck and quickly left its offensive zone to place one player in the neutral zone, three along the far blue line and one in its defensive zone, the Flyers simply stopped.
Just held the puck and dared Tampa Bay to attack until the officials could think of a reason to blow a whistle.
That got a lot of publicity, but Penguins coach Dan Bylsma does not think that is the way to beat a 1-3-1.
"Regardless of the hype or the attention drawn to it, I think [the Lightning] left that game accomplishing what they hoped to accomplish, which was to minimize the offensive ability of a team that's scoring a lot of goals -- minimize the shots they got on net, minimize the dangerous situations," Bylsma said.
"I'm not sure that game goaded Tampa Bay out of anything. What I read in the papers was they accomplished what they set out to accomplish in that game. We're going to try to not let them accomplish that against our team."
With their speed going from defense to offense and their ability to get up ice quickly, the Penguins can try to beat Tampa Bay's retreat, blow by the opposing players or chip the puck past them and beat them to it.
"That's our approach -- we want to go as quick as possible," defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "We saw Philly slowing the game down. I think that's exactly what Tampa Bay wants. We want to try to go as quick as possible, so they can't set that 1-3-1 up."
The fact that the Penguins could not get past the Lightning in the playoffs last spring, losing in seven games after taking a 3-1 series lead, was not closely related to Tampa Bay's trap.
For one thing, the Penguins were throttled by special teams, particularly a 1-for-35 performance on the power play, when the trap does not come into play.
For another, the Penguins ran into a hot goaltender in Dwayne Roloson and were missing a lot of firepower because of injury. They scored just 14 goals in the seven games, but through 18 games this season are averaging three a game, a full goal more and tied for sixth most in the NHL before Wednesday.
"This is a new season," Dupuis said. "The way we're playing right now, we're not comparable to the team we had last year."
The Penguins, with 25 points, were tied for the top spot in the league going into Wednesday.
That's different from the club that limped into its playoff series against Tampa Bay. Not that the Penguins dismiss the sting of losing, particularly when Game 7 was a 1-0 decision.
"Disappointing, especially since we were up in the series," goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury said. "It was a tough loss.
"But we were missing some guys, and they beat Washington after us, so it makes us feel like they had a solid team."
And not just because of that trap.
Tampa Bay has scoring power.
Leading the way this season is center Steven Stamkos, 21, who sputtered against the Penguins in his first career playoff series, getting no points in five of the games and finishing the seven games with two goals, two assists and a plus-minus rating of minus-1.
Now, he is leading the Lightning and among the NHL leaders with 11 goals, 18 points, including five goals, eight points in his past five games.
"Everybody's talking about how well defensively they're playing, but they have a lot of guys who can put the puck in the net," Fleury said. "When they get a chance, they come in fast and have a lot of skill."
That would mean two quick, skilled teams will be matched tonight.
First Published November 17, 2011 12:00 am