The New York Islanders had the worst penalty kill in the league in 2017-18. But a period in February and March saw them average league-leading type numbers, what were they doing?
We know that the New York Islanders defense was awful this season. They let in an abysmal 296 goals against. That was worst in the league by-the-way. Equally as terrible was the Islanders penalty kill.
The New York Islanders ranked dead-last in the NHL with a 73.9 efficiency. From day one to day 82 the Islanders penalty kill was an absolute liability.
Except for a twelve game stretch near the end of the season that saw the Islanders give up just three goals on the disadvantage in 25 chances. Or an 88% efficiency.
What did they do, and what can they learn going into the 2018-19 season?
Quality of Competition
Between February 15 and March 15, 2018 the New York Islanders played twelve games. During that stretch, they allowed three power-play goals against on 25 opportunities. That’s an 88% efficiency. That’s a 15 percentage point improvement from their season numbers.
New York Islanders
And before you think that they played Edmonton twelve times in that stretch I want to clear that up. They played both Pittsburgh and Toronto, the number one and two ranked power play in the league. The run also included Washington (seventh), Vancouver (ninth), and New Jersey (tenth).
And before you think, well they were stingier. The Isles just didn’t give up a ton of opportunities. You’d be wrong. The Islanders were shorthanded a total of 235 times in the 2017-18 season, per twelve game sample size that’s an average of 20. At 25 opportunities given in this sample, they were clearly undisciplined.
So what the heck were the Islanders doing during that stretch to be so effective?
Lesson to Learn
I wanted to focus on the Toronto game in this twelve game sample. It was a game where the Islanders went to the box three times in the second period. And on all three occasions, they killed the penalty against the second best PP in the league.
What they seemed to do well the entire game was apply a structured box on the kill. They kept shots to the outside and active sticks took away any passing angle.
Here’s a first example. As the puck comes into the Islanders zone the Isles set up the 2-2 box formation. The puck is worked to the perimeter and an active stick by Adam Pelech intercepts the pass and stops the play from forming and get a faceoff outside of the zone.
Here’s a second example. This time the play is already set up in the Islanders end. You can see the 2-2 box working the puck to the perimeter with the top too pressuring the puck carrier. As the Leafs try to pull defenders out of position and can’t they try a cross-seam pass. Casey Cizikas’s active stick breaks up the play and the Maple Leafs have to start over.
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It seems like a simple plan. Keep pucks to the outside and get sticks in the lane. But sometimes simple is the most effective. Throughout the season the Islanders just tried to do too much on the penalty kill and it cost them.