The New York Islanders held the dubious distinction of being the NHL’s worst penalty killing team for the majority of the 2014-15 season to this point. Recently, however, the Isles most obvious weakness has been rectified and the unit now looks to have finally clicked.
In the past nine games the Isles penalty killers have successfully killed off 21 of 23 short handed opportunities, a rate of 91.3%. The team has posted a record of 7-1-1 over that span.
I do not expect a team that has had a success rate close to 70% for the bulk of the campaign to be able to continue to kill off penalties at a 90+% clip, but the kill could not continue to be so ineffective if the Islanders were going to make a deep run into the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Thankfully for Islanders fans this season, making the Stanley Cup playoffs is not the ultimate goal, doing some damage if/when the team gets there is the goal. A penalty kill operating at less than 75% is a sure-fire way to make your stay in the playoffs a brief one, as special teams play such a pivotal role in every playoff series, as the quality opponents you face night in and night out are not likely to make as many even strength mistakes.
What has been the reason for the Isles recent short handed prowess? In a word; tenacity. Earlier in the season the Isles were playing their most passive, uninspired hockey while a man down, and it showed in the results. A team that is loaded with speed, especially among its forward corps, was sitting back and allowing their opposition to dictate the pace of play 5 on 4, as well as being too passive in trying to prevent re-entry into the offensive zone when they would make a clearance. That has not been the case for the Isles during their recent run of success. The Isles have been making life far more difficult for their foes’ power play over the past nine games, both in the defensive zone and in the neutral zone.
Obviously the fantastic play of Jaroslav Halak has played a major role as well. The old hockey adage that “your goaltender has to be your best penalty killer”is true, and we are reminded almost nightly by Butch Goring of that fact. Much of the credit must fall to the Isles netminder.
If the Islanders can continue to receive competent play while a man down it will pay major dividends in the standings, but more importantly, it will benefit them when it matters most, the playoffs. This year’s Isles are a team that has proven themselves to have few weaknesses, if they can mend their biggest hole for the long term, they have the potential to do something very special in the last season at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.