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Islanders: Analyzing the Use of the Bumper Against the Bruins

EAST MEADOW, NEW YORK - JANUARY 04: Head coach Barry Trotz of the New York Islanders handles practice during training camp at Northwell Health Ice Center at Eisenhower Park on January 04, 2021 in East Meadow, New York. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
EAST MEADOW, NEW YORK - JANUARY 04: Head coach Barry Trotz of the New York Islanders handles practice during training camp at Northwell Health Ice Center at Eisenhower Park on January 04, 2021 in East Meadow, New York. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The New York Islanders power play went scoreless on five opportunities in their 1-0 win against the Boston Bruins on Monday. In 8:50 of 5v4 play, the Islanders managed a few opportunities, but looked mostly hapless again, as they had on Saturday in the 5-0 loss to the Rangers.

This isn’t a new phenomenon, as anyone who has watched the team over the last two seasons can attest to. The Islanders ranked 29th and 24th on the power play in 2018-19 and 2019-20 respectively.

In fairness to assistant coach Jim Hiller, the power play has improved since 2018-19. That Scott Gomez-run power-play finished with a 14.5% conversion rate. It hasn’t exactly been progress in leaps and bounds, though. The Vegas Golden Knights jumped from a 16.7% conversion rate to 22% in one offseason, jumping from 22nd to 9th in league PP% rankings.

So what’s holding the Islanders power-play back?

Islanders vs. Bruins: Reviewing the Tape

I tracked offensive zone passes, zone entries, and exits for all 8:50 of Islanders power-play time from Monday’s game. Watching that Islanders power play reminded me of Shawn Ferris’s Substack piece “Why NHL teams should take note of the BC Women”.

The article is short but full of interesting power play thoughts, and some good visuals as well. What stood out to me when thinking about the Islanders specifically was Shawn’s ideas on the use of the bumper.

For those unfamiliar with the term, the bumper is the player who stands in the slot, halfway between the player screening the goalie and the defenseman at the top of a 1-3-1, or umbrella formation. This YouTube video can provide further visualization.

The problems with the bumper are twofold. As Shawn points out, the bumper is:

"“generally the most stationary player in the 1-3-1 and [is] only a shooting threat when the puck is on one side of the ice.”"

Monday saw the Bruins neutralize the bumper for most of the game. Brock Nelson, the Islanders’ bumper on the second power-play unit, was harassed by Patrice Bergeron whenever the Isles moved the puck to the left side, and the role’s inherently stationary nature meant that Brock couldn’t create new passing lanes for his teammates, who spent too much time passing the puck on the perimeter.

So, how do you make the bumper more dynamic? Shawn suggests giving the position more freedom, allowing the player to rule the power play like a “field general” by drifting to different parts of the ice, thus creating new passing options as needed both in the middle and on the perimeters.

Giving your screening player and bumper freedom to rotate, or swap positions could also work to create a shooting threat from either side of the rink.

The Islanders power play units already feature Jordan Eberle with Anders Lee and Brock Nelson with J.G. Pageau as their screen-bumper duos. By having a right and left-hander rotating as needed, you create new shooting threats that will keep penalty killers shifting to cover them, potentially leaving open gaps in coverage.

The bumper can be a difficult position to operate in, as it requires the player to possess a high hockey IQ and a mixture of different skills. It’s become an essential part of any NHL team’s power play. But, by breaking from its traditional restraints, certain NHL teams, like the Islanders, may find more utility in the position.

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