The New York Islanders are riding high as the hottest team in hockey. So, how is it this team is still falling into the bad/dull sides of hockey analytics charts?
Advanced analytics are good. Hockey is an extremely nuanced sport where seemingly innocuous happenings can have great effects on outcomes, and anything we can do to understand it more fully should be appreciated. But analytics, or maybe the people reading them, seem to fail at diagnosing the success this New York Islanders team has seen in this recent stretch.
I recently went back to an old piece from January of 2018 done by Steve Bowman. Then of Forever Blueshirts, Bowman queried on which new-age stat was the best indicator of success in the NHL. At the risk of being maligned for linking to a Rangers site, I’ll leave his interesting study here.
Bowman’s study found that there were stats more well-suited to judging NHL success than Corsi. But of the four stats surveyed, only one showed any strong, positive correlation to success. The stat, Scoring Chances For, topped out at a 77.5 percent rate of determining NHL success according to the parameters of his study.
The New York Islanders have won nine games straight. They also seem to fall into the bad, dull, and lucky categories in most of the statistics measured.
According to Natural Stat Trick, the Islanders rank second-worst in the NHL in 5V5 SCF%. While Bowman may have shown that Scoring Chances For might have had a strong positive correlation to winning, it isn’t the reason the Islanders have won nine in a row.
Should We Worry?
Most advanced stat can’t explain the Islanders success. Over the nine games, the Isles are among the bottom-five in 5V5 FF%, and their PDO of 1.033 is in the range which indicates a team playing above its true potential.
On a long streak such as the Islanders have had it would be quite easy to explain away the high PDO. A team that has won nine straight is bound to fall into some luck. See Derick Brassard‘s attempted pass from behind the net that became the Islanders’ only goal in Saturday’s 1-0 win in Buffalo.
For a team playing in the Islanders’ style a low Fenwick For Percentage is also not very worrying. This New York Islanders team has never been a possession-heavy squad, so it’s only natural that teams will accumulate more SOG’s and shots missed over 60 minutes against them. It’s also been widely noted that the Isles value quality over quantity in terms of shot selection.
I would like to see more defense-oriented statistics in measuring this team’s success. The Islanders have played very well, especially so in their previous five games. Their success has been largely a product of strong counter-attacking, a well-executed system in the defensive zone, and suffocating neutral zone play that inhibits the opposition’s ability to carry the puck across the blue line.
The Islanders’ HDCF% is the sixth-best in the league, their HDGF% ranks seventh, and their team SV% of .939 is second only to the Colorado Avalanche’s Grubauer-Francouz tandem. Compounding that, the Islanders’ HDSV% is .843, a pretty average number.
So, the New York Islanders are capitalizing on their high danger chances more than their opponents, and their HDSV% does not indicate that they are the beneficiaries of routinely Herculean goaltending making an inordinate number of improbable saves. There’s more to this team than the pundits are looking at.
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This streak of wins will inevitably come to an end. Whenever that may happen, the New York Islanders will have put themselves in an excellent position going forward. Barry Trotz’s replicable defensive style, the steadiness of Thomas Greiss and Semyon Varlamov in net and the forward corps’ continued offensive production will make the Islanders among the toughest names on almost any team’s schedule going forward.