This morning, @DTMAboutHeart and @asmae_t released expected goals (xG) data for every NHL season from 2007-2015 on Hockey-Graphs and in 2014-15 the New York Islanders lead the league.
xG is a statistic that has been tested against goals for and score-adjusted Corsi for, and has proved to be the most predictive of the three. It evaluates even-strength play and doesn’t account for goaltending, but thus far, it’s the most reliable public stat for evaluating how well a team is performing.
With that in mind, we may not have given the 2014-2015 Islanders the credit they deserved.
We have written about the 2015-16 Islanders’ even-strength play in comparison to the 2014-15 season, and it’s clear that the Islanders were one of the better teams in the league. However, when measuring by xG% they were not just a good team last year, they were the strongest even-strength team in the league and the seventh best team since 2007-2008.
The main difference between xG and other predictive stats, it’s one of very few statistics to include shot quality (distance, angle, type, rush, rebounds and on/off-wing).
So last season, the Islanders were not only able to out-attempt their opponents at even-strength, but they were getting to more dangerous areas of the ice on a consistent basis. Combining shooting a lot with shooting from dangerous areas is a recipe for success.
One of the few things that held the Islanders back last season was a shooting percentage below what was expected based on their shot quality and quantity.
So we ask again, what happened?
This season, by the same statistic, the Islanders rank 20th in the league.
One of the bigger differences on an individual basis is something we don’t have to tell any Islanders fan – it’s John Tavares.
When measuring individual expected goals (ixG), which does not account for expected goals against, John Tavares’s 2014-15 season at even-strength ranked fourth overall since 2007-2008 and first overall last season. The only people he ranked behind were Ovechkin twice (2007-08 and 2008-09) and himself in 2011-12.
This season, Tavares has dropped to 11th in the league.
John Tavares is far from alone in his struggles this season, but there are few teams that can see their number one center’s production dip so significantly and still perform at the same level.
Our take from this is not that there is something wrong with the coach, Tavares or any of the other players on the team. Our focus remains on waiting to see if the team that was so dominant, wakes up again this season. It might be a shift in system (still trying to find some differences between this year and last), getting everyone healthy again (Travis Hamonic coming back helps) or a mental hurdle they have to get over, but something needs to click.
Their last three games have been strong (54.6% score-adjusted Corsi via puckon.net), so we’re excited to see how they perform tonight after not playing for almost a full week.
Follow us on social media to join the conversation tonight at 7:30 pm ET when the Islanders face the Ottawa Senators.