Colorado Avalanche Trap Coming Naturally Now

Jan 14, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Colorado Avalanche defenseman Nick Holden (2) checks New Jersey Devils right wing Stephen Gionta (11) in the second period at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 14, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Colorado Avalanche defenseman Nick Holden (2) checks New Jersey Devils right wing Stephen Gionta (11) in the second period at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports /

The Colorado Avalanche are still playing a neutral zone trap, something that started about 5 weeks ago. But it’s become much more natural for the players now — which makes it that much more potent.

When I first wrote about the startling trap back a little over a month ago it was something easy to see and describe. The players had obviously spent a ton of time on it in practice, thus it was almost robotic, with players in the same spot no matter the situation and little to no movement.

Which was good — the last thing you want when implementing a new system is having some players executing loosely while others execute it like it’s a bureaucracy handbook. That leads to breakdowns, goals, and probably the end of the system. By having everyone stick exactly to the the X’s and O’s, the team can get a handle on the system and slowly adjust as is natural and necessary.

How The Trap Started

If you don’t want to go back and read the original post (which is good I promise), I’ll go over a quick outline of it here.

Here’s the diagram:

   Neutral Zone


D-Zone                     D1                F2                  F1                  O-Zone


It is a 1-3-1 trap, with one forward (F1) pressuring the puck carrier purely into making a pass up either side of the boards. The other two forwards and one defenseman are lined up across the blue line, almost exactly 2 feet in front of the blue line, with the last defenseman floating back in the high slot of the D zone.

When the first player forced the pass to either side, 2 of the 3 players (1 from the side it was passed to and then the middle player) on the blue line would jump it immediately and try to force a quick turnover.

If it was dumped in, the last defenseman back would be ready to retrieve the dump before pressure arrived and try to break it out quickly.

The interesting thing about how the trap started (which also made it really easy to identify), was that the 3 players on the blue line were always in the same spots, often motionless. Now the reason I know they had been coached to run the trap so exactly is because it is not natural- or often good- to have no momentum on the ice. Usually players are at least gliding one way or another.

In addition, the Colorado Avalanche didn’t rotate at all. If the opposing team went D to D in the neutral zone the “pressure forward” would skate all away across the ice to make sure the new puck carrier couldn’t skate with the puck. In a league with so much puck movement that’s very atypical.

How The Trap Has Evolved

Even though the trap in execution has changed, it’s still the same exact trap. Like anything else, the Colorado Avalanche players have been pushing the boundaries to how close exactly they have to stick to the rules of the trap. Thus even though the trap looks a lot different, the X’s and O’s haven’t changed. What has changed is the way the players maneuver within their confines.

For example in the first post we discussed how the Avalanche were methodically spread out across the blue line and had a precise, uniform distance in front of it. Now the players are starting to drift around, staying in the general vicinity of their area, but trying to read the play.

In addition, in contradiction to what we discussed above, the Avs now are rotating when cross ice passes are being made. So if the F1 is pressuring the opposing left defenseman, and the opponent defenseman goes cross ice to his partner, the F1 is no longer chasing over to cut the new puck carrier from moving it up the ice. Instead the furthest right blue line player is coming up to be the new F1, the middle player is shifting into the right most spot, the left player is shifting into the middle, and lastly the old F1 is rotating to fill the last hole on the left side of the blue line.

Lastly, the defenseman furthest back is now drifting around considerably based on whether he is anticipating a zone entry by the opposing team or a dump in.

The result of all this is that it is very hard to identify the Avalanche’s trap. The only reason I was able to still see it with these adjustments is because I felt stupid devoting the earlier post to a system they had already abandoned. But if you watch closely it’s very apparent the Avs are still lining up at the blue line and waiting to jump an unsuspecting opponent about to receive a pass.

Why The Change Is Good

I’m not claiming the loose version of the trap is any better systematically then the more precisely executed one, but the evolution of the trap says something about the team.

None of those simple adjustments can happen without the players trusting each other. If the F1 doesn’t trust his blue line players, he can’t rotate back on a cross ice pass. And if the blue line players don’t trust the F1, they won’t jump up. The fact that the system evolved so quickly is because it’s pretty apparent that the Avalanche players all trust each other, despite Roy’s tendency to juggle lines.

And the system has worked well in reducing odd man rushes produced in the neutral zone. The Avalanche have enough speed they don’t need to commit two players up the ice. Give them the puck at the blue line, and they’ll be able to carry it into the zone 9 times out of 10.

Next: Top 5 Roy Goalie Moments

Lastly, it’s a great example of the Colorado Avalanche finally doing something they seemed to struggle with for years: adapting. They’ve taken a great system drawn up on the white board and made it their own, and that is a valuable thing to have.