This may be the biggest sacrilege since Wayne Gretzky was traded: The Edmonton Oilers, renowned for their all-out skating and relentless fore-check, have turned to the trap.
To give you non-National Hockey League fans a comparison, the Oilers playing fall-back, roadblock hockey is akin to Pavarotti doing rap, Rembrandt painting road signs, Sylvester Stallone reciting Shakespeare. It doesn't fit.
But don't tell that to Oilers' head coach Craig MacTavish, whose team unleashed a strong defence (translation: it clogged the middle of the ice like a giant hairball in a faulty toilet) on Sunday to defeat the Detroit Red Wings and even their Western Conference quarter-final series at one game each.
"I would never call it a trap," MacTavish said yesterday when queried by reporters who wanted to know why the Oilers were so suddenly neutral-zone conscious. "If it's a trap, then Detroit plays the trap, too. I would call it . . ."
"A press," MacTavish continued. "You can call it whatever you want."
The Oilers, who will play host to Game 3 tonight at Rexall Place, have been doing everything they can to slow the Red Wings before they get started offensively. The idea is to keep Detroit from establishing its speed, which is the key to its prime offensive players -- Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Nick Lidstrom and Brendan Shanahan.
The plan worked to near perfection Sunday as the Oilers countered off Detroit's miscues and turnovers to score a 4-2 win at the Joe Louis Arena. Asked how he and his teammates enjoyed playing the trap, centre Shawn Horcoff followed his coach's lead and said, "You can call it whatever you want, that's just how we're playing Detroit, as a team you can't give space to in the neutral zone."
MacTavish has seen his Oilers play it hard and fast only to lose in the playoffs, usually to the Dallas Stars, their postseason partner in six of the previous seven seasons. This time, MacTavish and his coaching staff studied the Red Wings, analyzed their abilities and decided that playing "a press" would be the most prudent way to proceed.
"You get tired of being viewed as the perfect opponent," MacTavish said in reference to the fact Dallas always insisted it wanted to play any team but the Oilers. "I wondered why they would say that, because they beat us all the time. Teams always said how much fun we were to play against. You want teams to be upset by the way we're playing against them."
The Red Wings have scraped and battled for their goals in this series and have yet to look like the NHL's best regular-season squad, one that finished 17 wins ahead of the eighth-place Oilers. MacTavish pointed out that in any playoff series, teams get to prepare for one another by identifying strengths and weaknesses. Once that's done, they adjust and try different methods. Sometimes they even use different names to describe what other teams, such as the Minnesota Wild, have been doing successfully for years.
"We're playing a lot like Minnesota," said Dwayne Roloson, the Oilers' goalie who was acquired from the Wild, a team best known for playing slow-down hockey.
That can mean only one thing: If it looks like a trap and plays like a trap then it's a trap, and it appears the Red Wings are going to see their share of it as long as it continues to reap rewards for Edmonton.
One player the Oilers may not see soon is forward Ethan Moreau, who has missed the first two games with a groin injury. Moreau did not participate in practice yesterday. He skated alone after his teammates had left the ice.