Adjusting to The Trap--The Players' Reactions

Posted by Dave Nichols | Saturday, January 08, 2011 | , , | 4 comments »

Earlier this week, CBC columnist Elliotte Friedman devoted several paragraphs to Washington Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau implementing elements of the trap into his systems.  It's worth the read as a set-up to this column.

At practice this week, I had a chance to catch up with several Caps players to ask them about the adjustments that have been made to the system and the challenge implementing the trap into Coach Boudreau's preferred style of play.

The reactions, as you will no doubt tell, were varied.  Some players shrugged it off; some embraced it.  Either way, it's hard to argue with the success the Caps have had employing the neutral zone clogging trap, especially in games where they've secured a lead--and held on for the desired result.

According to Friedman's column, after the 7-0 loss to the New York Rangers on Dec. 12 Boudreau made the decision and informed his team the next practice that he was going to introduce elements of the trap into the game plan.  Since then, the Capitals have taken 13 points in nine games, with just one regulation loss, and just 15 goals against total in those nine games.

Granted, the penalty kill has been fantastic during that time frame as well, but 5-on-5 scoring has been limited to 10 goals in their past nine games.

It may not be the style Boudreau wants to play all the time, but it's working. 

The Caps have some excellent skaters on this team, and have to this point employed a more aggressive forecheck, leaving each player to have a man-to-man assignment.  Now, playing with the lead, the team falls back into more of a "zone" defense, shutting down passing lanes through the neutral zone, looking for turnovers there instead of up the ice.

So, how hard has it been to implement the new system?

"At the time, we needed it," Boudreau said.  "We weren't scoring, but we weren't defending really well either. It's an easy way to play.  It's not, quite frankly, the way I would want to play, but you look at what you have and where you're going and implement whatever you can do to succeed.  So it's worked, so far."

On to the players' reactions.  I'll let their words speak for themselves, but the overall impression seems to be that it's been good for the team.

Jeff Schultz: "I think it's been good.  It forces teams to go through five guys instead of three or four. I think teams are dumping the puck in a little more and the possession is more in our hands with going back and moving up quickly."

Tom Poti: "It's been a little different.  I think it's worked for us really well.  When we get up on teams, get a couple goal lead, I think it's worked really well. We're not as aggressive as we used to be to where if one guy makes a mistake, the other team has a really good chance on net, so this way if somebody makes a mistake up front there's a couple guys to back him up and it's worked out well for us in a couple games that we did have some big leads, we were able to hold onto them by clogging up the neutral zone."

Jay Beagle: "It's a little bit of a different mindset.  Before it was just 'go, go, go' in the neutral zone, in our control forechecking, now it's a little more of a patient game and closing up the neutral zone and making it harder on teams to get odd-man rushes.  It's kinda been nice, couple tweaks here and there fixing up the neutral zone.  I really like the new system and seems to be working really well, making it harder on teams."

Eric Fehr: "I wouldn't really call it a trap, but we are trying to be a little more conscious on the defensive end in our efforts, and it's something I think we needed to do.  We were getting broken down a little bit too much with guys entering our zone and it's great for us to have a couple more guys back and give away a few less opportunities."

Jason Chimera:  "We're working it into the program.  It's something we've all played, everyone's played in this system at one point growing up so it's not anything different than a lot of guys have played.  Bruce has played a different system before, but the good thing is if we master both we can switch back and forth and give teams different looks every game.  So I think that's the good think about it.  When we need to pressure a little bit we can switch to our other forecheck so it's been good."

Mike Knuble: "When you go through tough times it kinda forces you to change.  You really have to look in the mirror, have to look at your team if you're going to be doing the right things and how you stack up with the rest of the league. It's one of those things that the rest of the league is doing and other teams have been effective at it, and Bruce, he'll admit, he's never trapped in his life. He's never been a trap teacher, he can barely teach it, you know? But the guys have taken to it and I think the biggest thing it we've been getting results. Guys will buy in if you get the results."

I think Knuble's last sentiment is the take-away in all this.  "Guys will buy in if you get the results."

The Caps under Bruce Boudreau have been a high-energy, offense first juggernaut.  Introducing elements of a completely different style of hockey than what he's always preached is a gutsy move, especially making the transition in the middle of the season like he has. 

But desperate times call for desperate measures.  Following that 7-0 loss to the Rangers, Boudreau must have felt it absolutely necessary to shake things up on the ice, and probably in the room as well.  The switch gave everyone--the coaching staff included--something else to think about instead of the losing streak, and the Winter Classic, and the HBO cameras following them around all the time.

I don't think we can anticipate the Caps making a 180 degree turn in philosophy, becoming a defense first, conservative squad.  It's not in Boudreau's--or his star player's--nature.  But adaptation is critical in an 82-game regular season marathon, and the new wrinkles Boudreau has implemented give opposing coaches one more thing to think about when game-planning for the Caps.

4 comments

  1. GO // January 9, 2011 at 6:01 PM  

    I have to admit I didnt realize Boudreau was employing a full trap system. Frankly, I think its an unnecessary reaction. Sure, the Caps' lack of defensive play was the major obstacle to them advancing to the next level, but all he needed to do was coach his players to play responsible, sound, two-way hockey. Handcuffing players is not the right solution if you have the offensive talent, which they clearly do. If this experiment fails, Bruce is gone. And the Caps will get a hard ass coach who will force guys like Green to play their position the right way.

  2. Wiley1 // January 9, 2011 at 9:03 PM  

    I suspect you didn't read very carefully. BB isn't "employing a full trap system". He is only introducing elements of the trap. And, it is working beautifully. So, we can all take your criticism for what it is worth - nothing.

  3. GO // January 10, 2011 at 6:45 AM  

    Concede that I did not read the article completely and apparently a full trap is not being employed.

    Wont concede my contention that this team has not played responsible two way hockey until recently. Anyone who watches the game know this.

  4. Usually Frustrated Caps Fan // January 20, 2011 at 1:00 PM  

    Nice article, well researched and written too bad a guy like Go really didn't read it and just wants to rationalize his own beliefs...

    Love that he thinks " If this experiment fails, Bruce is gone."

    I couldn't disagree with that statement more - BB isn't anywhere close to being replaced, nor should he be.

    That said I am very happy to see the Capitals adjusting their style of play to where the team and it's stars are playing today rather than just trying to ignore the fact the top six forwards production is down.

    LETS GO CAPS!!!