I'm not sure if this has been mentioned by anyone else or not, but Guy Boucher likes his team to play a 1-3-1 in the neutral zone.
Oh it has been? By everyone ever? Well then.
The 1-3-1 is a nice, active system; but like all systems, it can be beat if an opponent executes a few certain maneuvers. In this case, a well-timed chip and support with speed can leave a team with puck possession while heading towards the offensive zone, and that lucky player may occasionally find himself facing a lone defender on the backend. Rotation has to be flawless to stop that.
Successful teams are usually adept at making adjustments. When a forward is bringing the puck up the ice and he knows exactly what defensive scheme he's up against, it becomes a matter of simple execution; and simple execution is far easier to accomplish than having to read and react, then execute. In Game 2 against the Tampa Bay Lightning, it looked like all the Boston Bruins were being forced to do was execute.
From what I can tell, there seem to be two types of coaches in the NHL.
The Bruce Boudreau type (and no disrespect to the very capable coach of the Washington Capitals when I say this), which is that particular type who sticks to his guns, almost stubbornly. The focus is on his team, not theirs. He says "this is the way we play, and our opponent is going to have to find a way to beat us. We're a good enough team that if we execute our game plan we'll win."
He famously switched his team's style of play after losing in the opening round of playoffs as a one-seed in 2010 to a more defensive game plan ... and less famously stuck with it despite feeling the series slipping away in 2011.
The other type of coach is more Detroit Red Wings Coach Mike Babcock-esque, who requires his teams to be able to play whichever way the game or series is unfolding. A great coach can't make a bad team good, but when the teams are fairly even, he can make the necessary corrections to put his team over the top; or at the very least, help them avoid getting swept in the Western Conference semifinal after being on the verge.
I'm always baffled when it's considered "weakness" to pay attention to how your opponent is playing and adjust.
I've played on a team in which our coach had different lines employ different neutral zone forechecks (both involved having two defenders back, so they didn't have to change the way they played). He took what he deemed to be our two faster lines and had them play a 2-1-2, and left the others to sit back in a 1-2-2.
After seeing that the lines using two forwards to pressure the D were causing turnovers, he asked the other two lines to play the same system. It's about tailoring your style to frustrate your opponent, and changing when it becomes necessary.
Guy Boucher and the Lightning are in a pretty damn fine spot right now — they're tied at one in the Eastern Conference Final with three of the next five games in their own barn. They're as healthy as a playoff team can be, stacked up front and solid in goal. But their weakest link is their D-core, as Tyler Seguin(notes) so generously pointed out for us, so they need take extra caution in overprotecting that link of the fence.
The 1-3-1 can be good for slowing forwards up through the neutral zone, but when it breaks down it puts more pressure on the last man back — if he's not rock solid, you're roasted. You don't need to leave a man on an island when you're lacking Norris candidates, and since the Bruins know what they're up against in the neutral zone, they've been able to blow up said island far too often through two games. That D-man is supposed to have help back there with proper rotation of course, but things don't always go as planned.
You can always revert back to what you've been running all year, but anytime you give up six goals in a playoff game, a number of which came off rush chances, it may be time to throw a different look at your opponent for a period or two.
Tampa has as good a shot as anyone to win a Stanley Cup this year, and with their great young coach, I wouldn't be shocked to see it happen.
You just can't get stuck in a rut. They already beat one team who did that this year -- they should know not to follow suit.