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Rossi: Give trap its due respect

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Sunday, Nov. 15, 2009

I know what to expect from the Devils, and it doesn't bother me at all. Indeed, I'm caught up in defending the neutral-zone trap.

Call me a sucker for strategy and a fan of rigid discipline when it comes to appreciating what hockey's most hated system routines offer — the best chance for teams to win on the road.

There was no coincidence that the Devils' victory Thursday at Mellon Arena was their ninth straight away from home. They're already 2-0-0 in Pittsburgh, having allowed only two goals in those contests. (The Penguins were healthy for that first loss, so no excuses.)

New Jersey's trap is perfectly designed for winning on the road during the regular season — though having Martin Brodeur between the pipes is a nice part of the equation.

Watch how the Devils trap under head coach Jacques Lemaire, the godfather of its modern-day standing. His players are seemingly never out of position. They almost always know when to flip the switch from patient to aggressive. Opponents are left shaking their heads by midway through the first period — because the Devils' trap not only denies time and space to force turnovers; it also causes frustration that leads to unforced turnovers.

In its own way, the Devils' trap is a thing of beauty.

Full disclosure: Given the choice, I'd rather watch the Penguins play than the Devils, especially if I was a paying customer. Still, count me out of any discussion that begins with, "The NHL needs to do something about the trap ..."

If anything, the NHL would do well to educate its fans on the history of the trap, which was a championship-system before the Devils reintroduced it to the masses in the mid 1990s.

As legendary Penguins adviser Eddie Johnston told me last year, "Those great Canadiens teams in the '70s played the trap."

What those teams didn't do, I'm told, is clutch-and-grab to slow the game to a crawl. That is what happened for about 10 years before 2005, when the league decided to start enforcing rules it previously allowed officials to ignore.

That dark decade not only destroyed interest in the product, it also permanently placed a negative connotation on the trap.

Well, no negativity here. I say it gets a bad reputation. I also say that it will keep the Devils in the thick of the Atlantic Division race until the very end.

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