Islanders 5 takeaways from their successful 2019-20 season

The New York Islanders celebrate their 5-3 victory (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
The New York Islanders celebrate their 5-3 victory (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Jordan Eberle #7 of the New York Islanders (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Jordan Eberle #7 of the New York Islanders (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

With the 2019-20 season over for the New York Islanders, what five things did we learn from this team?

The 2019-20 season was full of ups and downs for the New York Islanders. From a franchise setting 17-game point streak to basically falling out of the playoff picture in March to making it to the Eastern Conference Finals. It was a wild ride.

And fans should be proud to have been able to witness it. Sure, the Islanders failed to get to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 1985, but as Barry Trotz said: “You don’t always do it your first crack at it.”

Just look at the Islanders’ opponents in the ECF; The Tampa Bay Lightning. The Lightning have been to the Eastern Conference Finals four times over the last six years. They’ve been on the proverbial mountainside for years now. They hope to finally climb the damn mountain this year and win a cup.

The Islanders are building towards that. Last year, the Islanders made it to the second round. This year they went one step further to the Eastern Conference Finals. Things are trending in the right direction for the Islanders.

Looking back over the season, what have we learned going into 2020-21?

Head coach Barry Trotz of the New York Islander (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Head coach Barry Trotz of the New York Islander (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

1. Not Frauds

Since the 2018-19 season, the Islanders hold an 83-50-17 record. With 183 points, that’s the seventh-best record in the NHL over that period. In the playoffs over those two years, the Islanders hold a 17-13 record and 0.567 point percentage. That ranks them sixth in that time. The Islanders are a good team. A top team in the NHL in fact.

Back in early December, the Islanders were accused of beating frauds. The reason, they weren’t a good Corsi team. Which was just as ridiculous as it was then as it is now.

At the time of that hot take, the Islanders were one of the better teams in the league. Of course, a free fall happened in the second half of the season but that can easily be justified with injuries and a different approach to the game from the coaching staff.

Sure, the Islanders don’t play the most attractive style of hockey in the league. They aren’t the most offensive team in the league (they rank 25th in goals for since 2018-19) and they certainly rely on their defensive system to grind out wins. But they find that ‘W’ more time than not.

And at the end of the day isn’t that what it’s all about? To, as Michael Wilbon puts it: “Win the damn game”?

There’s nothing fraudulent about the way the Islanders play. They play to their strengths. They play a strong system game and outwork their opponents. Again, it isn’t pretty, but it’s clearly effective.

Making a run to the Eastern Conference Finals while dispatching teams like the Florida Panthers (much better offense), the Washington Capitals (a better record), and the Philadelphia Flyers (better record and a hot goalie). Aside from an 8-2 blowout in Game 1 of the ECF, the Islanders went toe-to-toe with the Lightning who are one of if not the best team in the NHL.

The New York Islanders proved they aren’t frauds, and that they are in fact the real deal.

Adam Pelech #3 of the New York Islanders (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Adam Pelech #3 of the New York Islanders (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

2. Adam Pelech Top D-man

When Adam Pelech wasn’t on the ice for Game 6 after a hand injury he picked up in Game 5 (that he played through), Islanders fans collectively held their breath for their team. We know just how important Pelech is to this club.

When on the ice, Pelech does an incredible job of clearing the slot and reducing the danger to his goal. There’s no better evidence of this than the unblocked shot rates for his 2019-20 season when on and off the ice.

When on the ice, the Islanders xGA drops by 3% while when Pelech is off the ice it jumps up by the opposite amount: +3%.

When Pelech isn’t in the lineup, the Islanders struggle. After picking up a season-ending injury on January 2nd just before a date with the Devils, the Islanders went from one of the better teams in the league to technically dropping out of the playoffs.

With Pelech in the lineup in 2019-20, the Isles were 25-10-3 and had the fourth-best record in the league. Without him, the Isles slumped to a 10-13-7 record for the 26th best record  (or sixth-worst record) in the league.

We were all surprised to see Garth Snow protected Pelech in the 2017 Vegas Expansion draft, but it’s clear Snow knew Pelech was going to be a good defenseman at some point. We saw that this year.

Adam Pelch is a vital part of the Islanders structure. He’s clearly going to get a significant raise on that $1.6 million AAV that is set to expire at the end of next season.

Patrik Laine #29 of the Winnipeg Jets (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Patrik Laine #29 of the Winnipeg Jets (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

3. One Piece Away

The Islanders had one glaring weakness all season long. They just don’t score enough goals. With 189 goals-for this season, the Islanders finished with the eighth-worst offense in the league. Only the Columbus Blue Jackets and Dallas Stars have a worse offensive numbers and made the postseason.

Through 68 games, the Islanders had two 20 goal scorers (Brock Nelson with 26 and Anders Lee with 20). Mathew Barzal and Anthony Beauvillier would have likely eclipsed 20 with a full season.

At 5on5 the Islanders just weren’t creating enough opportunities to score. They held the eighth-worst xGF with 123.77. (We’ll get to the power play in the next slide.)

The Islanders might have been winning games, but they weren’t creating enough offense to be considered ‘dangerous’. Adding a goal scorer, a player who could add 25+ goals consistently every season, would change that.

They desperately need help offensively. With a flat cap, getting that consistent 25+ goal scorer is going to be an issue for the Islanders. The Isles have zero room to add a veteran player to their lineup without moving a few pieces out.

Going after Patrik Laine in the trade market will be expensive. Winnipeg isn’t just going to give him up for free. Same goes for Nikolaj Ehlers. Trying to land Mike Hoffman in free agency (if he gets there) will be impossible unless the Islanders are prepared to move Leddy, Boychuk, and another contract.

But any of the three would be arguably exactly what the Islanders need.

Unless, guys in the system, like Kieffer Bellows or Oliver Wahlstrom are ready to step up and give the Islanders what they need. The jury is still out on whether either of them can be a top-six forward in the league

If the Islanders could find a way to add a consistent 25+ goal scorer like Laine or Hoffman or if Bellows or Wahlstrom can develop into one, the Isles will be a contender. They did get to an Eastern Conference Finals without any of them after all.

Head coach Barry Trotz of the New York Islanders (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Head coach Barry Trotz of the New York Islanders (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) /

4. Terrible Power Play

In the 2019-20 offseason, Lou Lamoriello let special teams coach Scott Gomez go and brought in his guy Jim Hiller from Toronto. After a dismal 14.5 percent efficiency on the power play in 2018-19, Hiller was supposed to breathe new life into the Isles man advantage.

It didn’t work at all.

The Islanders were terrible yet again on the power play in 2019-20 with a 17.3 percent efficiency. They ranked 24th on the man-advantage in the regular season. It was a weakness that hounded them throughout the regular season and into the postseason.

The issue with the Islanders power play isn’t entirely due to coaching. The Islanders didn’t have a single player with more than four power play goals this season. Anders Lee, who’s put up 33 PPG between 2016-17 and 2018-19 had two this season. Two!

Lee had more power-play goals in the Philadelphia series then he did in the entire 2019-20 season. The issue on the PP isn’t just coaching. Although reducing the reliance on the ‘super-dump’ zone entry by the coaching staff is a must.

Simply put, the Islanders just don’t create enough on the power play.

It’s not that they don’t shoot enough. With 255 shots on 168 opportunities, the Isles rank eleventh for shots per opportunity with 1.517. They shoot enough on the power play. But they don’t get enough quality opportunities.

With an xGF of 30.47 the Isles rank 30th in the league. Only the Montreal Canadiens are worse with a 30.09 xGF on the power play.

What that means is, while the Islanders might be getting enough shots towards the net, they aren’t getting enough quality shots towards the net. The Islanders can address this by bringing in a goal scorer in the offseason.

(All advanced stats take from NaturalStatTrick.)

Ilya Sorokin #90 of the CSKA (Photo by Anna Sergeeva/ Getty Images)
Ilya Sorokin #90 of the CSKA (Photo by Anna Sergeeva/ Getty Images) /

5. Future is Bright

As good as things are right now, things will are about to get better.

Ilya Sorokin, largely seen as the best goalie not currently playing in the NHL, will start his NHL career in 20-21. The Russian shot stopper was signed to a single year $2 million deal for 20-21 just before the start of the postseason.

The sense is that Sorokin can be a game changer for the Islanders franchise. With a 0.930SV% and 1.70 GAA in 244 KHL games, it’s easy to see why. With a strong defensive system in front of him, Sorokin’s adaptation to the NHL should go smoothly. Just look at where the Islanders got without someone of Sorokin’s talent. No picture how far they could go with him.

On that blueline, Noah Dobson should get the training wheels taken off in 2020-21.

This season the Islanders 12th overall pick at the 2018 draft only played 34 games. Most of that was out of necessity with Adam Pelech picking up a season ending injury in January.

In all fairness, Dobson had a few hiccups in his fist NHL season, namely that nutmeg by Kasperi Kapanen in January. But overall, the 20-year-old was an excellent defender for the Isles. As the season grew so did Dobson’s confidence and standing on the depth chart.

By the time the 19-20 season picked up again, Dobson was challenging some of the established veterans for ice time.

The Islanders blue line was already strong without Dobson on the ice. After a year of effectively holding the clip board and what will be three training camps under his belt before the start of the 20-21 season, Dobson will be ready for his full debut next year.

And I haven’t brought up the potential for Kieffer Bellows or Oliver Wahlstrom to make this team in 2020-21. With the stability this team already has combined with these promising players from the system ready to make the leap, things look good for the Islanders in 2020-21.