The Devils mustered on 14 shots on Ray Emery last night.
You can certainly chalk it up to a lack of execution on the offensive side, but it was more about what the Flyers did defensively that stymied the Devils’ attack.
Let’s take a deeper look at the Flyers defensive system.
The first thing that came to mind, was that they Flyers almost used a neutral zone trap last night to slow the Devils. Almost, being the operative word here.
To define the trap, which certainly the Devils are no stranger to, the goal is to play a 1-2-2 system which positions one forechecker in the offensive zone, followed by four players at neutral ice. The goal is to do exactly what the name means, which is to use two or three forwards to pin the team against the boards on their breakout and force them to turn the puck over.
That wasn’t exactly the case last night, instead,the Flyers ran a 1-3-1 system at times, which had a forechecker deep, three men at neutral ice and a defenseman back in his own zone. The 1-3-1 is the “new” trap system that teams have run sparingly throughout the last few seasons. The Tampa Bay Lighting actually used the same system against the Flyers a few seasons ago.
This system gave the Devils fits, because the Flyers when the Devils were coming out of their own zone, but then immediately put pressure across the ice as soon as the Devils crossed their own blue line.
- source: http://buffalosabresnation.com/2011/11/21/the-1-3-1-neutral-zone-trap-explained/
In addition to the 1-3-1, the Flyers used a three-men-across system, which put pressure with the forecheckers at neutral ice, but had both defensemen back in the zone. This sort of defensive play almost completely crimps the defensive team’s ability to break out, because all five players are usually deeper than in this case, the Devils defensemen.
Basically, what Philadelphia did, was take away any space that allowed for passing through the neutral zone. This left the Devils with nothing to do but dump the puck. Not a dump and chase system, which is designed to get the puck in and then immediately bring in forecheckers to win pucks in the corners. Instead, the Devils were consistently running out of space, so they were just dumping the puck into the zone.
Because the Flyers had those players back, they were easily able to neutralize any chance at establishing a forecheck by having enough bodies in front of the play.
The image above shows the pressure on the puck, but the Flyers also had a defenseman back, to the near side, which would take away any opportunity of a quick pass towards center ice.
In this image, we see the three forwards pressuring the puck at neutral ice. Jaromir Jagr almost loses the puck, which could have created a 3-on-2 the other way, but he was able to hang on. Because both Philadelphia defensemen were back, even by beating the three forwards who were aggressively pressuring the puck, there was still no immediate shot or pass for Jagr to take.
How could the Devils have beaten such a system? The best way to beat a system like the Flyers used last night, is to quickly break out of the zone. If you notice, Martin Brodeur was playing the puck a lot last night, because he had time. The Flyers were quick to get back to neutral ice, which left Brodeur with the ability to pass.
Quick passes out of the zone open up the ice up and stops the ability for the three skaters at neutral ice to pressure the puck carrier. In a sense, because the Flyers were spread out at neutral ice, the best way to get it past that line is to make one pass and hope for an offensive chance. The idea is to beat those three forwards into the zone, which leaves them out of position for a quick shot or pass.
As we see in the image above, Brodeur’s quick play of the puck allows Adam Henrique to gain the zone before the Flyers could pressure at neutral ice. Rostislav Olesz could have taken a wider angle down the middle, which could have given Henrique an opportunity to pass the puck. The heads-up play by Brodeur left the three Flyers forwards out of the play and if Olesz had perhaps trailed the play a bit, there was an 2-on-2 opportunity.
Whether the Devils were just not expecting such a defensive system, or the losses of Travis Zajac and Patrik Elias impeded their ability to pass the puck with success, New Jersey struggled to get the puck in deep and operate with space on Saturday night.
This is definitely not a system that they’re going to see on a normal basis. What the Flyers did was essentially sacrifice offense and any sort of breakout opportunity to play strong team defense. The bottom line, it worked.