November 11, 2011
Trending Topics is a new column that looks at the week in hockey according to Twitter. If you're only going to comment to say how stupid Twitter is, why not just go have a good cry for the slow, sad death of your dear internet instead?
Here's a thought exercise: Pretend for a moment you're a coach in the National Hockey League.
You like to play a conservative system to begin with and your two best defensemen are out of the lineup for a game against the second-highest scoring team in the League and you are, as a consequence, down to just five D-men.
a) Continue to play conservative hockey as is your wont or
b) Deviate from the system you've been playing for two years to engage in a more up-tempo contest as part of an attempt to play a more entertaining style?
If you picked option B, you are a blithering moron and you're fired.
As you are all quite aware by now, Wednesday night's Philadelphia Flyers/Tampa Bay Lightning game in Tampa, presented live and in high definition on national television was a disgrace to the sport of hockey.
Flyers defensemen were, for most of the first period, delaying their breakout attempts for 30 seconds at a time because they did not like Tampa's vaunted 1-3-1 defense. And despite the fact that Tampa was not the team holding the puck when the controversial non-plays took place, everyone piled on the Lightning right away. Mike Milbury and Keith Jones (who by the way is on Flyers payroll) talked at length during the intermission about how something — anything — has to be done to outlaw this type of reprehensible defense with the kind of executive haste not seen since the Sean Avery(notes) rule.
Pierre McGuire agreed vociferously, as did a number of unnamed NHL players who texted him to virtually shake their heads in admonishment of the reigning Eastern Conference runners-up. McGuire even had the audacity to basically ask Guy Boucher if he regretted wasting everyone's time with this defense that was clearly eroding everything great about our grand sport.
All the finger-wagging, which was copious on Twitter among players and fans as well, ignores one simple fact: Baseball is the only North American sport in which the defense, not the offense, is responsible for driving the course of the game forward.
For anything to happen, the pitcher must throw the ball toward the batter. It's not the case in basketball, where the attacking team inbounds the ball and advances it up the court. It's not the case in football, where the offense snaps the ball and makes a play from there. And, last time I checked, it's not the case in hockey, where a team can't score from its own defensive zone unless Vesa Toskala(notes) is the opposing goalie.
It is, therefore, Philadelphia's prerogative if it does not want to carry the puck out of its own zone on the breakout.
What happened Wednesday night was akin to the quarterback taking a snap on fourth and long and just standing there with the ball while the opposing team covered guys downfield because he didn't like the look of the defense.
"That's not hockey in my book, but whatever. The league's letting them do it. Would you pay money to watch that? I wouldn't either. That was a TV game, too. Way to showcase the product."
This ignores the fact that this little sideshow display took place in Tampa, and it sure as hell wasn't the Bolts the fans were booing during these lengthy delays in game action. If they had done this in Philly, Pronger would have been lucky to be wearing a visor, because he'd have caught a D Cell in the temple faster than you can say Jacques Lemaire. Odd that they felt perfectly comfortable boring the hell out of opposing fans and not their own, which tells you everything you need to know about where the true fault falls here.
And by the way, didn't everyone pretty much agree that the Bruins/Lightning Game 7 last year was pretty much a perfect hockey game? It only featured one goal, and no one cried in the media after about how it was hacking away at the integrity of the sport.
"Why would you pay money to watch it?" he asks.
Well there are two pieces of evidence here. First, there's the standings. Tampa is tied for the lead in its division. That means, simply, that the style is winning more hockey games than it loses. Ask any hockey fan if they'd rather see their team lose 6-5 every night or win 2-1, and get back to me on what they have to say. And that is borne out in the second piece of evidence in "Chris Pronger and the Case of the Boring Hockey Game." The Bolts sell more than 19,000 seats a game. All to watch some "boring" hockey.
Of course, that ignores that the Bolts aren't a boring hockey team. Through Wednesday's win -- note, by the way, that this game was a win for them -- they're tied for fourth in the league in goals for at 46, slightly more than three a game. They've also allowed 47, tied for sixth-most in the league.
Teams, it would appear, seem not to have a problem getting past this defense that the Flyers claim is impassable.
Not that I don't get why they think so. After all, what this bit of crybabyism on the part the Flyers highlights is not that the Lightning play a boring style, but that Peter Laviolette has no clue how to solve it.
Since Boucher took over behind the bench, the Flyers are a whopping 1-3-1 against the Bolts. The win came in a shootout, meaning they Lightning have taken nine of 10 possible points from the Flyers. And in those games, they've scored just 13 goals. Seven of those came in an 8-7 loss last November.
So the Flyers' decision was not motivated by its sense of duty to keep the game pure and beautiful and elegant. It was motivated by Peter Laviolette trying to do anything to draw attention away from his team's complete inability to beat a Guy Boucher-coached squad without going to a skills competition.
Chris Pronger's right. If I were a Flyers fan, I wouldn't wanna see that either.
As it turns out though, just standing over the puck for half a minute at a clip isn't the only strategy the Flyers thought about employing to, ahem, protest the Bolts' passive defense.
@DHSpeedwagon: "Refuse to kill penalties until they each get 1 pudding cup between periods"
@hamsandcastle: "Present opposing team with a well-designed, compelling brochure of your offseason pickups"
@chrissampang: "Pine for the days when Don Waddell would send you prospects for little cost"
@michael_n78: "Let's wait and see."
And your winner:
@Brochenski: "Stand around long enough until Roloson literally dies of old age"
Pearls of Biz-dom
We all know that there isn't a better Twitter account out there than that of Paul Bissonnette(notes). So why not find his best bit of advice on love, life and lappers from the last week?
BizNasty on fatherhood: "For those asking about Mathieu Bissonnette playing in the QMJHL Superseries. He's my son."
If you've got something for Trending Topics, holla at Lambert on Twitter or via e-mail. He'll even credit you so you get a thousand followers in one day and you'll become the most popular person on the Internet! You can also visit his blog if you're so inclined.