Yesterday I wrote about how fans and pundits need to start recognizing that the New York Islanders have proven they are a Stanley Cup contender. And there were still comments projecting why they can’t win in the playoffs. So here’s a look at how they fare against their potential opponents.
As the old adage says, “if you want to be the best you have to beat the best.” For the New York Islanders this year, that has been just what they have done.
The article a few days ago talked about how the Isles should be considered a Stanley Cup contender. They are, after all, only two points of top spot in the Metro with a game in hand, have allowed the fewest goals in the NHL, have TWO top-five goaltenders, have not one defenseman with a negative +/- and are getting balanced scoring from all four forward lines.
I think if you put that resumé with any other team, they would be considered a real contender. The Isles simply have an understandable bias against them because, well, they’ve not been a playoff team and by all “expert” predictions had a devastating offseason.
The Numbers Don’t Lie
But, as has been the narrative throughout the offseason and into this successful season, it’s about what the Isles can’t do versus what they are doing. The comments were mixed, but plenty of people mentioned that they need a scorer, they got beat up by Calgary, the powerplay sucks, etc.
So, for argument’s sake, let’s say the positives I’ve outlined and the negatives that the comments mentioned are a wash. The powerplay sucks (24th) but the penalty kill is solid (13th). They don’t score enough (20th) but they allow no goals (1st).
So let’s bring it down to purely relevant metrics – how do the Isles fare head-to-head against the best. Let’s take a look at how they’ve done against the likely playoff opponents (Columbus and Philly added as bubble teams that could very likely get in as well).
The Isles have a 0.522 win percentage against their Eastern Conference playoff-likely rivals, including OT losses. If you remove OT losses from the equation (yep, I realize those still count as a loss, but in the playoffs, there are no shootouts, and the Isles can avoid those shootouts and instead grind four lines), the Isles are winning at a 0.594 rate.
Do you know what you need to win in the playoffs? Four out of seven games, or a 0.571 win percentage.
If the Isles go 6-3 in those remaining nine games, they’d sit at 0.563. They’re right there.
(For the record, the Isles record against the Western’s playoff-likely teams is lower, but the first three playoff rounds are against the Eastern.)
The Playoff Intensity
Let’s go a bit deeper and focus on some key games where it most mirrors a playoff game. Emotional, meaningful games against the playoff-likely teams (or bitter rivals) and in many cases with no rest.
I’ve pegged the following as the most playoff-like games:
- opening night vs Carolina (setting the stage for the season)
- both games vs the Sharks (stacked lineup with offseason additions)
- all three games vs the Lightning (best team in the league)
- all four games vs the Penguins (Pens own the Isles and this included an early season-back-to-back)
- all three games against the Caps (Stanley Cup champs, Trotz emotion)
- both games vs the Leafs (obvious reasons)
- both games vs Vegas (2018 Stanley Cup finalists)
- all four games vs the Rangers (biggest rivalry in NY sports)
- both games vs the Flames (top team in the West)
- the game against the Jets (one of the top West teams)
- all back-to-back games (long travel, tired legs and testing team depth – excluding redundancies of 12/29 Leafs, 1/13 Lightning, 1/18 Caps, 2/1 Lightning, 2/28 Leafs, 3/1 Caps)
The record in those 37 games is 20-14-3, for a 0.541 winning percentage (0.588 in regulation results). In the most emotional games against the best teams and often with tired legs, the Isles win more than they lose.
Nobody said the Isles were the Stanley Cup contenders who were going to sweep their way through the playoffs, but grinding out seven-game series with the depth the Isles have from four lines and two goalies is hard to match up against. And the numbers prove it.