Learning to live with the 1-3-1 and how to take it down
Defense-first hockey isn't something new and Buffalo Sabres players enjoy facing it as much as fans enjoy watching it.
If the Buffalo Sabres and other offense-first teams have a bugaboo it comes from teams that thrive on bottling up the neutral zone and slowing the game to a crawl in their own demented defensive way.
The Sabres have gotten a long look at the 1-3-1 forecheck already this year and it’s a defensive scheme they struggled against last season and in a pair of games against the New York Rangers and New York Islanders they’ve shown that it’s just as frustrating as ever to deal with.
A season-opening home loss to the Rangers and a close road defeat to the Islanders highlighted their need to find other ways to attack a scheme that’s meant to take away their strengths of speed and skill.
Even discussing it is frustrating and for the players, they like going up against it as much as most fans like to watch it in action. Following the Sabres loss to the Rangers, captain Kyle Okposo was frustrated about how the team responded to seeing the stifling style of defense flummoxed them. Seeing it again days later against the Islanders prepared them for it, but ultimately it was the Isles taking two points.
“Well, we obviously have struggled against the 1-3-1 in the past and we got to figure out how to play a simpler game when we play it because we just overcomplicated it tonight,” Okposo said following the Rangers loss.
How it’s used now isn’t quite the anti-hockey it was in the late-90s and early 2000s, but its purpose is the same: Grind the game down and attempt to win low-scoring games. And if you turn the puck over enough and fall into the, ahem, trap, you get your doors blown off on the counterattack.
But while many teams are turning towards playing a high-octane kind of hockey that utilizes speed and skill to put opponents on their heels, there are still a few holdovers doing it the old way. That doesn’t mean players have to like it though.
“I don't think you're going to see a coach that hasn't worked in the NHL in the last 10 years that's going to come in and play that style,” Okposo told Noted Hockey. “It's older coaches and it's the way that the game used to be played. It’s super defensive. In my opinion, it’s hard to win a Stanley Cup that way now. Really hard.”
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