Islanders declining special teams and Adam Pelech’s worth to the PK
By Nicholas Jehamy
The New York Islanders haven’t looked the same since their 17-game point streak. One aspect of their game that has taken a hit over the last two months is their power-play performance.
Coming out of the All-Star break the New York Islanders are positioned third in the Metropolitan Division with 63 points through 49 games played. Over the last month, the Islanders have gone 4-5-2 as the gap between them and the wild card teams closes quickly.
There are multiple aspects of the Islanders game as well as specific players that can be pointed to in the explanation of what has been going wrong with the Isles currently. This may not be the biggest issue at hand but one thing we can put our finger on is the decline in play during power plays and penalty kills compared to earlier in the season.
Throughout the season the Isles have had 113 power-play opportunities, which is the least of any team in the league. Out of those 113 opportunities, they have scored 22 goals which are the second least in the league. That comes out to 19.5 percent which is below average.
Over the first three months, the Isles successfully scored on 20 percent of their power play opportunities. Over the last month, they have scored four out of 23 coming out to 17.4 percent. What has changed?
When it comes to their power play numbers this can be directly related to their overall struggles offensively as of late. It is no surprise that the team should be looking for another scoring threat this trade deadline to help fix this issue at hand.
The Isles are averaging 2.64 goals per game over the last month compared to last month’s three goals per game. Brock Nelson has continuously produced goals, but Mathew Barzal hasn’t been able to hold up on his end, only scoring one goal over the month’s eleven games.
Saying they should draw more penalties isn’t the answer here. They need to convert the opportunities they do get and return to the power play team that converted on 27.8 percent of opportunities through the first month of play.
I’ll start by saying the Islanders are one of the best teams in the league when it comes to goals against with 132 given up so far, with the only teams with fewer being the Dallas Stars and Columbus Blue Jackets. That being said their penalty kill unit has been middle of the pack.
On the season the Islanders have given up 28 goals on 137 times short-handed for a successful penalty kill rate of 79.6%. That percentage has dropped from 80.9% over to this past month. Here are the Isles penalty kill percentages for each month this season:
October: 80.6% | November: 86.1% | December: 76.7% | January 74.1%
What can be the reason for this dip in production? The loss of Adam Pelech is definitely a big factor here. Sadly the defenseman will be out for the season so they will need to find another way to replicate the production of Pelech with the penalty kill unit.
Adam Pelech’s Impact
Pelech has played half of the Islanders penalty kill minutes this season. Aside from the basic numbers showing the difference in the team’s success rate (just look at how bad they were this past month with him on injured reserve) we can see why he was so productive in these situations based on the opposing team’s play with him on and off the ice.
Based on heat maps viewed on HockeyViz depicting shot rates of opposing teams with Pelech on and off the ice during penalty kill situations, we can see a clear difference in production. With the defenseman off the ice, the penalty kill unit has given up an above-average number of shot attempts within close proximity of the goal.
While he is on the ice, the penalty kill unit looks like a whole different team. A majority of the shots against come from deep in the slot out by the blue line. In addition, shots taken in close proximity to the goal are greatly below average, the exact opposite of what the defense gives up with him off of the ice.
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If the Islanders wish to get back to the level of play they were at when shorthanded, they will have to find a way to recreate the production of Pelech. Do they have anyone that can replace him in this situation and step up to the plate? We’ll have to wait and see, so far though it hasn’t looked promising.