SUN Hockey Pool

Plug 'n' play well

STEVE MACFARLANE, CALGARY SUN

, Last Updated: 7:36 AM ET

In the post-lockout NHL, 'trap' is considered as dirty as some of the more colourful four-letter words.

But the strategy employed by the Calgary Flames Thursday night in a stifling 2-1 victory over the Colorado Avalanche looked a lot like the smotherings formerly exclusive to teams like the Minnesota Wild and New Jersey Devils.

And you know what? It works for the Flames' identity.

Making the safe plays -- chipping the puck off the boards out of their own zone, or getting it deep behind enemy defenders; backchecking furiously after an equally pressing forecheck -- is what got the much less skilled 2004 version to the Stanley Cup final.

It's what will work for this year's team, too, if they can solve their identity crisis and commit to the less exciting but more effective brand leading up to, and into, the playoffs.

Of course, no one wants to call it trapping. But the Flames clogged up the neutral zone like a troublemaking toddler flushing a whole roll of unused toilet paper.

The forwards and defencemen moved as five-man units much of the night, whether they were advancing offensively or reversing to defend the Avs attack. It's not an easy concept for a team with more gifted offensive stars than it's been used to over the last decade, but it's necessary.

You can't argue with the results, as the Avalanche managed just 16 shots on goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff -- three in the first, seven in the second, and another six in the third -- who will win almost every time with that light a workload.

Prior to Thursday's stifling win, the Flames allowed at least 32 shots against in seven straight games.

"It's got to be commitment by everybody," said defenceman Cory Sarich. "If you've got one or two guys that aren't pulling their weight, there are breakdowns. Once a team generates a little offence in your zone, gets one or two shots, it usually leads to a couple more off of cycles and breakdowns in your own end.

"It's just got to be everybody on top of your game if you want to keep the shots down."

The tactic was addressed by Avs head coach Joel Quenneville after the game. They just couldn't get anything past the containment.

"I think you just have to have that mindset that defence wins games," said winger Wayne Primeau. "Sometimes, you get away from it because you start pushing for goals. I think if everyone can buy into it that system of playing your team defence then the offensive opportunities will come."

The reason for such a dramatic drop in scoring chances in their own end was the spacing between teammates.

There was no cherry picking, no cheating to get out of the zone until another Flame had the puck and was ready to move it out.

And when the Flames got into the Avs end, they set up shop with strong cycling along the boards.

Sound familiar?

"The three games we lost, we didn't play together," said defenceman Anders Eriksson of the disappointing four-game road trip that saw his team win just once.

"We really played three forwards ... big gap ... two D ... big gap ... and Kipper. It creates a lot of holes, a lot of openings for the opposition to play."

Excitement doesn't come from goals in a defensive game, but the Calgary crowd certainly showed its appreciation for the effort Thursday.

On more than one occasion, they cheered for the third and fourth lines after good shifts that kept the puck deep in Avalanche territory even when they weren't capped off by a scoring chance.

"We appreciate that greatly, that the fans see the hard work we put forth," said Primeau.


Videos

Photos