Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports
The New York Islanders are back at Nassau Coliseum this morning as they prepare for a four game homestand.
After successive defeats over the weekend to the Chicago Blackhawks and Nashville Predators left them with a 2-2-1 record after 5 games, if you are reading social media for the first time, you would think the sky is falling, the season is over and we should just pack it in.
Now, of course, those claims are quite ridiculous, especially with no team in the Eastern Conference really lighting up the standings board as of October 14.
However there are some clear and distinct trends in the statistical analysis that point out some obvious reasons for the Islanders lackluster play, or so it seemed, over the weekend.
Forgetting about who has the most goals, assists, penalty minutes or hits for a second, the focus needs to be on team statistics that go beyond what your typical newspaper boxscore can show you.
With the institution of Corsi, Fenwick and a host of other comparatives being offered in today’s National Hockey League, you don’t need to search far and wide to find a much more simpler set that tells almost the same story.
Let’s break down where the Islanders are in terms of team statistics after five games…..
Goals For / Goals Against
The Islanders have scored 15 goals and allowed 12 for a +3 differential. Those numbers, of course, are skewed slightly by a 6 goal outburst against the Phoenix Coyotes last week. The team has already played two shootout games and two one goal games, which leaves very little room for error.
The Islanders save percentage through five games is actually a tad above NHL average at 92.1%.
New York has fired 119 shots and allowed 151 but we need to break that down even further to tell a more disturbing story.
If you factor in attempts blocked (61) and missed shots (36), the Isles have had 216 attempts on goal. Their opponents have had 86 shots blocked by the Islanders and 64 misses, leading to 301 attempts on goal.
Now, that clearly is a bad sign, being -85 this early in the season in shot attempts. And the team has not exactly played offensive powerhouses yet, outside of the Chicago Blackhawks on Friday.
Puck possession has to improve and the transition game, which has struggled mightily to not only clear the zone at times but lead to smooth break-outs, has to get better ten fold for this trend to reverse itself.
The Isles have dealt 95 hits to their opponents 102. That was all due in part to the Phoenix game, where they were outhit 34-15 but still managed to win running away by a score of 6-1.
What this proves is that the league’s most discretionary statistic is pretty much meaningless when it comes to wins and losses.
Giveaways / Takeaways
Another dicey, discretionary stat (what exactly is the qualification for getting a job keeping these numbers at games?) is giveaways and takeaways.
Anyone who has watched every minute of the first 5 games will conclude it has been a choppy, inconsistent start for the team. The defense has clearly not gelled yet and the offense is certainly not firing on all cylinders yet.
You could also point out the FACT that we did not possess the puck much in the most recent losses to Chicago and Nashville.
So how in the world do they own a 47-38 giveaway/takeaway advantage? Do they count both if they happen simultaneously? Your guess is as good as mine.
The gentlemen who keep these statistics actually had New York ahead in Chicago 8-6 and behind in Nashville only 11-9. Maybe they were watching re-runs of ‘Cheers’ on a dual screen setup and missed some? Moving on….
Power Play / Penalty Killing
Critical to any teams success is their conversion rate on special teams. In today’s NHL with penalties being called constantly for both legitimate and ‘shady’ infractions, they can clearly turn a game on its head.
With officials still in pre-season mode, we have seen some calls from last year be obviously missed as they seem to have forgotten about the slashing the stick out of a players hand rule for starters. But that is for a totally different post.
The Islanders power play has started out slowly, converting only 3 of 15. While on a percentage basis that looks good (20%) the opportunity to escape Nashville with at least a point was washed away when the team could not convert on a 4 minute advantage late in the game, barely getting anything of quality on Pekka Rinne. I personally am not convinced of the 4 man forward setup, preferring to see Matt Donovan be given a shot along Visnovsky to run a number one unit.
The penalty kill has picked up right where they left off, killing 11 of 13 to start the season. Matt Martin, Casey Cizikas, Michael Grabner and Frans Nielsen have been spectacular in that regard and with the speed that Grabner possesses, the threat for instant offense while down a man is always present.
Here is where the Islanders need to improve and quickly. Faceoffs lead to puck possession, no matter what zone the draw takes place in. And the numbers have been showing the team declining since opening night.
Game 1 : 28-24 (54%)
Game 2 : 31-30 (51%)
Game 3 : 28-27 (51%)
Game 4 : 30-35 (46%)
Game 5 : 21-31 (40%)
Remember the stat above about shot attempts?
The Islanders clearly need to improve their puck possession and control statistics and begin to turn the tide on those shot attempts. Which, as the defense begins to come together, I believe they will.
The neutral zone holds the key to some of these early trends. Forwards have to come back in support and slow down these offenses before they get a chance to gain the Islanders blue line. You just cannot keep defending 3 on 2 rushes all night and expect to survive with the all the talent on the ice these days.
At the end of the day, in conclusion, it is only five games in, we are 2-2-1 and there is nothing to panic about.
However, some of these numbers need to reverse themselves before we take a look again after game ten.
Morning Skate Notes
Oh boy, did Jack Capuano give Islanders social media some play this morning. All he had to do was his job as head coach and experiment with some different line combinations.
All of a sudden, he didn’t know what he was doing, was an awful coach and should be burned at the stake in front of Nassau Coliseum as Peter Laviolette walks past into his new office. /smh
Capuano knows exactly what he is doing. His motto has always been simple: ‘If you want to play, SHOW me”. Not a difficult concept. And there have been some obvious passengers after only five games.
Here were the combos that caused the stir (panic) :
Also, Arthur Staple of Newsday reported that, from Capuano’s post-practice remarks, it looks as if Pierre-Marc Bouchard will be back in the lineup tomorrow night against Buffalo for Brock Nelson.
On defense, Radek Martinek signed a waiver to practice with the team today. Could be that Jack is trying to either wake-up his current defenseman or is looking at any way to improve the transition game from defense to offense, which has been poor early.
Either way, he is doing his job. And some fans, I would argue, are not by jumping to conclusions about where the team might end up in April on October 14.