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November 10, 2011 5:00 pm

Is the 1-3-1 good for hockey?

An odd, fascinating scene took place last night in Tampa, where the Lightning dropped into the 1-3-1 formation and the Philadelphia Flyers, rather than trying to attack the cluttered neutral zone, simply held the puck. It led to the hockey version of an Old West standoff, and eventually the officials blew the play dead and called for a faceoff. It has led to great debate, among hockey pundits, whether Tampa Bay’s system is good for the game and even whether it should be legislated. Terry Murray, certainly a fan of defense-first hockey himself, has regularly spoken over the past year about the neutral-zone clogging and the increased difficulty of getting the puck through the middle of the ice, so I asked him for his thoughts on last night’s incident…

MURRAY: “I was actually surprised that it hasn’t happened before, and actually I think it has. When I watched a game last year, Tampa Bay and Washington, it was at Tampa Bay and I saw the game. Washington had the puck and Tampa Bay was lined up with their first forward on the offensive blue line and just waited. It’s just part of the game that is there right now, because of teams having their way of attacking and other teams’ way of playing without the puck. There’s nothing illegal about it. I actually watched a video on the computer the other day, of a youth hockey game. There were five guys standing in the neutral zone, waiting for the young kids to come attack. They were like 11, 12 years old. The thing that we have to have some awareness to, in the NHL, is that there are people watching, players watching, coaches watching. Now we’re starting to see it filter down through all of hockey. Personally, I’m concerned about it.’’

Question: Just because it makes the game less watchable?

MURRAY: “When it starts to trickle down to the youth hockey programs, then you’re concerned about development. How do you develop your skill? How do you learn to play the game? How do you learn to pass the puck under pressure situations and carry the puck? There’s just a whole gamut of things that come into play, with the process of young players now. That’s my concern. I’ve got nephews that play hockey in Canada. They’re young kids and they love to play the game. It’s a lot of fun. They just want to have a tennis match. `Let’s go back and forth and chase the puck and have some fun.’ So it’s a concern.’’

Jim Fox asked whether it is an offshoot of the “torpedo’’ system that originated in Sweden, given that European teams have long played without the red line, something relatively new to the NHL…

MURRAY: “That goes back to European hockey, years ago. Maybe even decades. Having no red line will certainly encourage that look on the defensive-structure side of the game. That is exactly the way they played in Europe for many years, and I think now there’s a conversation about putting the red line back in in Europe, so that the game becomes more of a flow game again.’’

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