The strangely consistently inconsistent New York Islanders wrapped up the first quarter of the 2013-14 season not looking at all like what fans expected them to after making the playoffs in the lockout shortened season that was 2012-13.
Now many, myself included, think those expectations were overblown and taken way out of context. We all knew the Islanders would be dealing with an emerging, but young and inexperienced blueline this year. Evgeni Nabokov, deemed to be the best of a weak free agent class, was resigned to be the starting goaltender at age 38.
Things have a funny way of working out however as we enter the second quarter. Nabokov will be sidelined what could be four weeks or more with a groin strain and Kevin Poulin has been given the reigns to become the team’s starting goaltender. A dream come true for Poulin, albeit under circumstances he wishes were different, but the time is here and now for fans and management alike to finally see what they have in the 23-year-old Quebec native.
In Poulin’s last five starts he has compiled a goals against average of 2.40 with a save percentage of .910, both slightly below NHL averages but more than enough to win games for the talented offense he has in front of him. Those numbers are much better than what Nabokov was able to put up in 14 starts (3.30, .892).
Anders Nilsson has been recalled officially from Bridgeport to serve as the backup but I would imagine we are about to see a run of three out of every four for the Islanders new starter.
On defense, New York is still working youngster Matt Donovan into the pace of NHL hockey, which as anyone with an inkling for hockey will tell you is much different than you could ever experience at the AHL level. With the injuries to Lubomir Visnovsky and Brian Strait, head coach Jack Capuano has been forced to rely more than he would have liked to on the likes of Radek Martinek and Matt Carkner. Luckily, Aaron Ness arrived from Bridgeport and has played extremely well thus far in his six appearances, adding some much needed life to the Islanders breakout and transition games.
At the end of the day, there is not much for general manager Garth Snow to do. The cost for top line defensemen is non-existent, because teams are not willing to part with them at all. The market for goaltenders is extremely expensive, some speculating that two top draft picks and a high prospect is the starting price for negotiations.
With the Islanders, realistically, not close to a Stanley Cup or deep playoff run at this time, it would be advisable for Snow to not sell short on the ongoing rebuild just yet. We are getting there, but have ways to go still.
In terms of super-stats and the ‘numbers behind the numbers’, some tell a story and some say about as much as a newborn baby. But in terms of the Isles, there are certain ones that stand out and have assisted them on their path to mediocrity so far through 21 games (stats are through 20 games, 1/4 of the season).
Record first ten games : 4-3-3
Record second ten games : 3-7-0
Shots On Goal / Attempts
Islanders were out-shot over the first ten game stretch 285-312 (-27) and out-attempted 525-600 (-75). Those numbers reversed themselves to 310-294 (+16) and 625-569 (+56) basically proving that, ala Michael Grabner, it is not about the number of chances you are generating but how often you convert that is key. Secondary scoring in the second half of the first quarter really took a hard hit.
The Islanders also were -10 in blocked shots over the two segments (161-151) making that no discernible difference to the bottom line record.
The Islanders went from +13 in the first segment (221-208) to -33 in the second (209-242).
Always been thought of as a statistic that is VERY open to debate and opinion, it has never in my mind turned a game or series of games on their heads and provided any bottom line effect to wins and losses. Sure, they can turn a game in a moment’s notice, especially when Cal Clutterbuck and Matt Martin are on together and get going, but at the end of the day, statistically speaking, you just cannot place any serious amount of validity to its worth, no matter what the number I claimed above says. I mean, you CAN, but……..
Giveaways / Takeaways
Islanders were -2 (84-86) in first half and -14 (82-96) in second half.
Oh boy, I don’t have to tell you my disdain for this statistic in the realms of the NHL event summary. Never seeming to make any sense, most will tell you there is a pure home team bias when it comes to the off-ice officials recording this into their ledger. Has about as much bottom line meaning as hits when you try to tie it to wins and losses in the standings.
At the end of the day, this statistic is just left up to too much interpretation for my liking.
As discussed above in the introduction, goaltending has been the hot topic for almost eight months now in Islanders country and this statistic does tell a story.
Even though New York has been able to turn the tide on shots and scoring chances, the save percentage went from 90.7% to 88.8% over the course of the two halves.
With the NHL average hovering at about .915 or so, you can see how far below that mark the Islanders really are. If the defensmen do not accelerate their learning and forwards continue to be lazy in their back-checking assignments, it could be a very long season on Long Island.
Power play started off red hot in first ten games by going 10 for 33 (30%) then fell of a diving board into a pool filled with no water, finishing 3 for 35 (9%) in the second ten and suffering through an 0 for 18 slump.
Penalty killing suffered exactly the same fate, ringing up 26 kills out of 30 (87%) before falling to 21 of 34 (65%) over the last ten.
We all know special teams can change a game in a heartbeat and when your secondary scoring, as previously mentioned, has dried up and your defense is getting beat upon like a rented mule, you have to convert your man up opportunities.
The loss of Visnovsky and more recently, Thomas Vanek, has had a tremendous impact on the power play, still ranked 16th in the entire league based on those early season numbers. At one point, Capuano went with 5 forwards, who still passed around the perimeter too much and were unwilling to throw the puck at the net.
The penalty kill, dead last, is just a mess of missed assignments and too much spacing. Not to even make mention of the exquisite inability to clear the puck forcefully enough to get it past any of the opponent’s two defenseman at the point.
First ten not so bad at 47% but fell precipitously in the second half of the first quarter to 43%.
In fact, if you take the numbers down even more in terms of granularity (5 game segments) you see 48.4%-45.0%-44.9%-41.4%.
Last but not least, as a former center, a statistic that is very dear to my heart. I always took pride in my ability to take and win faceoffs, as they granted my team immediate possession of the puck. In crucial moments, such as a late game defensive zone draw up a goal or an offensive zone draw needing a goal (perhaps on a power play) the art of faceoffs has been lost on some teams this year. And we are one of them.
In fact, only two teams have a worse winning percentage than the Islanders overall 45.1%. Calgary and Winnipeg. The Isles do not have one player above the 50% mark in winning draws (Frans Nielsen comes the closest at 49.8%) and that is a major reason why it always seems like we are chasing instead of initiating. John Tavares and Peter Regin are both below 44%, with the league average seeming to be around 51%.
We will see again after the next twenty just where the Islanders have improved or fallen off. And I bet the record will show in certain categories as discussed above and mean absolutely nothing in others.
It’s just the way the world of crazy NHL super-stats work.