Lou Capozzola/Getty Images
The Tampa Bay Lightning have adopted a 1-3-1 trapping style of defense under rookie coach Guy Boucher. The Pens traditionally have had difficulty with the 1-3-1 (See: New Jersey Devils, whose 1-3-1 has given the Pens fits for decades). Dan Bylsma has done a fairly good job of game-planning around this with a questionably-legal tactic that involves a loophole in the icing rule.
Put simply, a defenseman sends the puck down the ice from his own blue line, shooting it past a forward in the process. The forward “accidentally on purpose” makes an effort to play the puck, letting it pass by him into the attacking zone. The linesman interprets this feigned effort by the forward as reason enough to wave off icing, while the weak-side forward and center crash the offensive zone and attempt to win the chase for the puck in the corner.
(Note: A more in-depth analysis of this attack is available here, and full credit for spotting this should go to the incomparable Mike Colligan, whom if you are not reading, you should be).
The issue with this attack is you need: 1) grinding, big-bodied forwards to win the puck battles in the corner; and 2) skilled forwards to convert on the chances generated by winning those puck battles. The Penguins, without Crosby and Malkin, only really have No. 1. They have done a decent job of winning the battles along the boards but are not converting those victories into goals.
So how do the Pens prevent Tampa from dropping back into the 1-3-1?
Score the first goal.
Better yet, score the first two.
The 1-3-1 is a great strategy when you have the lead or the game is tied; rarely does a team playing the 1-3-1 get a great many offensive opportunities. It is a neutral zone trap designed to thwart up-ice rushes, gain possession of the puck, and clear it back down into the other guys’ end.
If the Pens can get on the board first it will force the Lightning to have to bring at least one more forward up into the attacking zone, which is one less player the Pens have to maneuver around in the neutral zone, which will (theoretically) lead to more scoring chances.