With the offense coming to life in the latest New York Islanders win, fans have begun to point fingers at the lacking defense. After two games of the team looking lost in their own zone, it’s important to look at what’s working and what isn’t working at the blue line.
Beginning the season with an upgraded lineup of rookies and veterans alike, scoring was never a concern for the 2017-2018 New York Islanders. The duo of Jordan Eberle and John Tavares could each easily have 60-70 point seasons and the expectations of young forwards have never been higher.
Despite the struggle to get on the scoreboard in game one of the season, the Islanders were still able to generate good scoring chances through the first period. These chances finally came to fruition in an exciting 6-3 win over the Buffalo Sabres. While this strengthened the fans’ faith in the offense, it became clear that the holes in the defense were to blame for the team’s early struggles.
The Islanders defense was certainly not something that was improved over this past offseason. While losing Travis Hamonic was not the huge blow it may have seemed to be, there was no move made to fix certain problems the team had been experiencing. Even with only two games under this team’s belt, the flaws in the defense are apparent.
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What Isn’t Working
Throughout these first two games, Calvin de Haan has obviously been struggling. With almost the lowest corsi among defensemen and a negative relative CF% so far, De Haan has been incredibly sloppy in the Islanders own zone.
He’s become almost a liability at times, with multiple giveaways in the corners that have led to the opposing team scoring. A general lack of communication between the goalies and the defensemen seems to be a problem early on in this season but even more particularly with 44.
de Haan, known for his eye for blocking shots, is a commonly streaky player. It seems to be in his nature to only turn it on at certain times but with a contract potentially on the line and the need for a fast start for the Islanders, now is not the time to get cold.
Another sore spot in the defensive zone has been Joshua Ho-Sang. While he can’t be held entirely responsible for what goes on in the Islander end of the rink, the young forward’s tendency to be flashy has cost the team possession on several occasions.
While it’s refreshing to see stick handling talent rather than simply a dump and chase game like we’ve seen in the past, Ho-Sang lacks a certain discipline with the puck that would allow him to be so fancy in our own and the neutral zone. This has led to dangerous turnovers more than once and like de Haan, Ho-Sang has a negative relative CF%.
With time, the rookie will improve in his own zone but for now he remains part of the problem.
What Is Working
However, it isn’t all bad for the New York Islanders blue line. Certain pairs and players have stood out as effective in these first few games.
As is in every season, Nick Leddy has shined. With an assist in the latest game against the Buffalo Sabres and the second highest CF% of any player on the team so far, Leddy continues to prove himself as the team’s best defenseman. Aside from his ability to score, Leddy also continues his practice of nearly perfect zone entries, being one of the only Islanders to be able to go coast to coast.
One pair that has continued to stand out since their time together last season has been Thomas Hickey and Scott Mayfield. The two have topped the possession charts over the first two games, proving to be the most effective pair on the ice during 5v5 play. Hickey himself has 20+ in terms of corsi thus far.
While two games is an extremely small sample size for these statistics, this pair has been exhibiting their compatibility since the middle of last season. Keeping them together amidst the line/pairing experimentation over the next few days would be optimal for the team and provide some stability.
For this to truly be a competitive team, The New York Islanders will have to be well rounded. With a revamped offense and two strong goalies, now more than ever, it is important for the defense to do its part.