ShareThis Page

Wild's trap smothers Penguins

| Sunday, Jan. 9, 2011

There is a four-letter word that the Penguins can expect to hear a lot the rest of this season. At least, they'll hear it if they continue to struggle against the T-R-A-P.

They certainly did Saturday night at Consol Energy Center in a 4-0 loss to the Minnesota Wild.

Winger Craig Adams correctly noted that every NHL team, including the Penguins, relies "on a different neutral-zone forecheck." In fact, the Wild's resembles the one implemented by the Penguins — not without coincidence, either.

Minnesota coach Todd Richards was the head coach at AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton with Penguins coach Dan Bylsma as his assistant. Richards is 3-0 against his former bench partner, and Bylsma's teams have scored four goals in those games.

The Penguins (26-13-4, 56 points) are 5-5-2 since the end of their 12-game winning streak Dec. 11. They have scored two or fewer goals in seven of those contests.

"I sensed a frustrated group over on the other side, at least looking at their body language," Richards said.

The last five games have provided another frustrating trend for the Penguins — that "T" word. Starting with a loss at the New York Islanders on Dec. 29, each of the Penguins' opponents has tried some variation of that frustrating neutral-zone system.

Even the Washington Capitals, generally regarded as an up-tempo-all-the-time team, trapped after taking a lead in the Winter Classic on New Year's Day. And they actually bragged about their defensive display.

Quick reminder: The New Jersey Devils didn't have to brag while trapping their way to a 6-0 record against the Penguins last season. The Devils had all-time goalie Martin Brodeur, who has beaten the Penguins 40 times since 1991.

Jose Theodore, a former MVP signed by the Wild in October, won his 19th game against the Penguins after stopping 26 shots. As Richards noted, Theodore is an expert handler of the puck — leaving one effective method for success against the trap, a dump-and-retrieve approach, fairly ineffective.

"We were second to the puck," Penguins winger Pascal Dupuis said. "You aren't going to win hockey games that way."

Registering more than six shots in the third period with the score hardly out of reach also would help.

The Wild carried a 2-0 lead into the third on first-period markers by Chuck Kobasew and Martin Havlat. Third-period coffin-nails were driven in by Cal Clutterbuck and Kyle Brodziak, the latter into an empty net.

Empty is how the Penguins should feel about their efforts against the trap, but they seem to be in denial that the system has played any role in this 1-2-2 stretch. They've scored only three goals in the four losses.

"I don't think (it's a concern)," left wing Matt Cooke said. "I just think it's a mentality."

Cooke was among many teammates who lamented his club's ability to play with speed through the neutral zone.

So, let's explore the commonly held definition of the trap: a system designed to clog the neutral zone, close passing lanes and minimize penetration at the blue line. What did the Wild do to earn this win?

"They trapped us," Penguins defenseman Kris Letang said, "and we turned the puck over."

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.