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Islanders: Three Takeaways from Dominating 5-2 Victory over Sabres

UNIONDALE, NEW YORK - FEBRUARY 22: Brock Nelson #29 of the New York Islanders skates against the Buffalo Sabres at the Nassau Coliseum on February 22, 2021 in Uniondale, New York. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
UNIONDALE, NEW YORK - FEBRUARY 22: Brock Nelson #29 of the New York Islanders skates against the Buffalo Sabres at the Nassau Coliseum on February 22, 2021 in Uniondale, New York. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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New York Islanders
Oliver Wahlstrom #26 of the New York Islanders. (Photo by Kevin Hoffman/Getty Images)

2. Islanders Power-Play Looked Good Despite an 0-for-3 Night

Yeah, the Islanders power-play didn’t convert an opportunity into a goal last night. But, it wasn’t due to a lack of good chances. That isn’t something we would’ve been able to say six weeks ago. At that time, around mid-January, the Islanders were in the midst of a poor stretch on the man advantage which looked all too familiar.

They struggled to gain the offensive zone blue line, they struggled to hold onto the puck, and they struggled to get set up in their 1-3-1 power-play formation. Forget about scoring goals, if you can’t do any of those three things, you aren’t even going to generate chances or shots. And they weren’t generating them.

That wasn’t the case on Thursday.

The Islanders generated a lot of shots, 10 of them to be exact, and a lot of high-danger scoring chances at 5v4 as well. The first one came less than ten seconds into their first power-play when the Isles executed a set-play that they’ve really liked to use this season. Josh Bailey fed Brock Nelson a pass in the slot which Nelson tried to redirect into the net, but Johansson saved it.

But, that play pretty much set the tone for how the Islanders power-play opportunities were going to go on Thursday. They threatened a lot from inside the Sabres’ slot.

When they needed to they were good at gaining the opposing blue line too. Again, six weeks ago we’re having a very different conversation about this same exact subject. Six weeks ago, if either one of the Islanders’ power-play units got kicked out of the O-zone, that was it. Mail-in the rest of that man advantage, it was pretty much over.

That was particularly baffling to me because of some of the excellent puck transporters the Islanders have. Mathew Barzal is a top-three in the NHL, elite-level talent at carrying the puck and gaining controlled zone entries. Nick Leddy, with his smooth skating and excellent puck-shielding, is also very good at transitioning and creating zone entries with puck control.

But, for whatever reason, the Islanders just couldn’t gain the offensive zone in 5v4 situations with any degree of competency. That’s a problem that goes back to Barry Trotz’s first season on Long Island when Scott Gomez was running the Islanders’ power-play.

I still think the Islanders do a lot of standing around in these moments. Waiting for the puck transporter to gain the blue line and feed someone a pass so the rest of the unit can get set up. That’s not great. But, they have definitely become more supportive of their puck carrier, and that’s important.

So, although they didn’t score a power-play goal on Thursday, I think we can take comfort in the fact that the Islanders power-play is showing improvement finally. The Sabres penalty kill is ninth-ranked in the NHL, and the Isles created scoring chances, zone entries, and a lot of zone time against them. It was a positive night for this unit, even if it didn’t result in a goal.

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