The New York Islanders continue to be the story around the NHL. How did a team who was destined for the basement end up at the top of the Metropolitan? It’s all about defense.
Before a puck had been dropped on the 2018-19 NHL season the New York Islanders were written off. We all remember the headlines and we all remember the justifications.
We all saw the same thing. With the losses and additions to the playing staff, there was no way the New York Islanders could be better than they were the previous year. Yet, 48 games into the seasons the Islanders are ten points up on where they were last season.
Much of that success is thanks to a vastly improved defense. At this time last season the Islanders had allowed 179 goals against, today (January 23rd) their goals against is the lowest in the NHL at 122. A reduction of 57 goals against.
The turn around has been incredible. But how?
Look At Those Numbers
The Point broke down some of the numbers behind the New York Islanders defense from this season and compared it to the previous season. We aren’t talking about PDO or goals against. Some of the data they looked at was scoring chances, rush chances, shots from the slot, and passes into the slot. More descriptive.
With the Islanders unexpectedly sitting at the top of the Metropolitan Division fans and analyst are all looking for an answer. How did this happen? This team was so poor defensively last season, how did they turn it around?
Of course, focusing on Barry Trotz and his system is the easy (and correct) answer. But what about his system turned this defense around?
We all know that the slot or the baseball-shaped space in front of the net is where most goals are scored from. The Islanders have gone from the 28th and 27th ranked team in shots and passes against in the slot during the 2017-18 season to the third and fourth respectively.
In a little over seven months since Barry Trotz took the job and with no significant addition to the New York Islanders blueline.
Barry has clearly shown the team how to keep shots to the outside and reduce the other team’s ability to get the puck in the slot for scoring chances. We see it game-in and game-out. The Islanders might not get the lions share of the shots in the game, but they have the advantage in the high-danger chances for on most nights.
And it Barry’s system that’s what matters; tilt the high-quality chances differential in your favor.
And it doesn’t end there.
Protect the Line
When it comes to protecting the blue line the Islanders have again made incredible leaps in quality. They’ve gone from 29th in zone entry denial rate, rush chances against and offsides forced in 2017-19 to fourth, first, and sixth respectively this season.
The Islanders are not only stingy when it comes to letting their opponents create chances in the slot, but they’re just as stingy when it comes to allowing that opposition to gain access to their zone.
Last season teams were openly given the blue line by the Isles. The opposition could walk right into the zone unopposed and set up shop. This season the Islanders have been able to close the gap on attackers as they try to enter the zone. Thanks to that approach the opposing teams aren’t getting the same free access to the Islanders zone that they were getting in 2017-18.
Want your voice heard? Join the Eyes On Isles team!
The New York Islanders might have a league-leading 103.1 PDO. But saying that the reason for their success is luck is nothing but a cop-out. The Islanders are having obvious success in key targetted areas like reducing chances in the slot and making access to their zone a more difficult affair.